France’s justice minister, who was preparing a draft law to clean up politics but whose party is targeted for possible investigation, resigned on Wednesday to avoid compromising the new government of President Emmanuel Macron.
The resignations of Francois Bayrou and fellow party member Marielle de Sarnez, the minister for European affairs, came a day after the defence minister, Sylvie Goulard, stepped down for similar reasons. A fourth minister shadowed by conflict-of-interest allegations left his Cabinet post for a parliamentary job.
The resignations came hours before a planned Cabinet reshuffle that was initially expected to concern adjustments and now must involve major changes. The defence and justice ministries are at the top of the government hierarchy.
The defence and European affairs ministers are from Bayrou’s small centrist Modem party, which is allied with Macron’s Republic on the Move! party. Modem is under investigation for allegedly using aides receiving European Parliament salaries to perform work for the party.
The resignation of Goulard on Tuesday put pressure on the justice minister, who was in charge of promoting a draft law on “restoring trust” in politics. Bayrou and de Sarnez told the French press on Wednesday that they are leaving the government to allow Macron to push his goal of cleaning house.
De Sarnez pulled out of the government just days after winning a seat in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. It was not immediately clear whether she would take up the parliamentary seat or give it to her backup who would have taken her place in parliament had she remained in the Cabinet.
Like the ex-defence minister, Bayrou and de Sarnez could become subjects of investigations over the use of parliamentary assistants who were improperly paid.
A fourth government member facing an unrelated investigation also announced Tuesday he was leaving his post as minister for territorial cohesion to lead the group of lawmakers elected under the banner of Macron’s party at the National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament.
Richard Ferrand said on RTL radio that the new position is a “strategic job” and a “sign of confidence” from Macron.
Ferrand could face investigation for alleged conflict of interest related to his past business practices. He denies doing anything illegal, but acknowledges some old habits are no longer accepted by the public.
Macron, elected as president on May 7, has promised to inject ethics into French politics, peppered with corruption, to restore the credibility of the political class in the eyes of the people. Ethics in politics became a top subject after former conservative Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s presidential bid very publicly collapsed after reports surfaced that he paid his wife for work as a parliamentary aide that she allegedly did not perform.