PARIS — In another sign of tough times in France, the government has been told to cut the size of the Republican Guard, the elite unit that provides the pomp and ceremony on state occasions.
The guard, which includes the last cavalry unit of the French army, has 2,859 civilian and military staff and costs €280 million (US $367 million) a year to run.
Officially, 69 percent of this budget is dedicated to the protection of major public buildings, including President Francois Hollande’s Elysee Palace, the Prime Minister’s Hotel de Matignon, the Senate and the National Assembly.
But spending watchdog the Cour des Comptes said the guard’s role was, in reality, mainly ceremonial. “In the event of an organized intrusion (at any of the buildings), the static guards would not be in a position to resist,” the watchdog noted.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in his response to the report that he was favorable to a review of spending on security for the buildings concerned but underlined they were particularly vulnerable to the threat of terrorism.
France is attempting to cut around €10 billion from public spending this year as it struggles to reduce its budget deficit in line with EU targets.
As part of the austerity drive, ministers have already accepted 30 percent cuts in their salaries, and Hollande raised eyebrows last week when he revealed that he would auction off hundreds of fine wines from the Elysee cellar.
Officials plan to replace them with cheaper bottles and the resulting savings are to be poured back into the government’s empty coffers.