The French government might be encouraging people to tighten their belts, and there's still no sign of the much promised increase in purchasing power, but that hasn't stopped one minister from almost blowing her entire expenses.
It's only the end of March, but the justice minister, Rachida Dati, has confirmed reports that her department has already spent two thirds of its annual €200,000 entertainment budget.
She also admitted that her ministry overshot its "party" spending last year by €60,000, claiming there had been exceptional circumstances that led to her spending a cool €260,000 in just seven months.
Those “circumstances” included receptions she organised during Fête de la Musique (World music day) on June 21 and the celebrations for Bastille Day on July 14, as well as playing host to a special soirée for her counterparts from the other member states of the European Union.
Quite how she managed to fit in so much partying remains something of a mystery as when she wasn't shuttling around the country with the prime minister, François Fillon, trying to promote her long overdue but nonetheless unpopular reforms to a sceptical judiciary, she was swanning off on foreign trips with the president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Dati accompanied him to China, Morocco and the United States and was generally Sarkozy's stand-in of choice after second wife Cecilia flew the coop and before number three Carla stepped in to take over the mantle of first lady officially.
And up popped Dati again as part of the president's entourage during his recent state visit to Britain, although this time under the watchful eye of Carla.
The first lady had clearly learnt her lesson when the justice minister all but upstaged her at a reception held for the visit to Paris of the Israeli head of State, Shimon Peres, a couple of weeks ago. Dati wowed the assembled paparazzi at the president's official residence, the Elysée palace, and caused a mini sensation when she turned up wearing a navy satin gown slit to the thigh.
Of course the 42-year-old could hardly be termed publicity shy. Within months of her appointment just last June, she had already graced both the cover and several inside pages of the weekly glossy, Paris Match.
One saving grace so far is that there’s been no cabinet reshuffle and Sarkozy hasn't been tempted to put her in charge of the country's purse strings. A rather cautious Eric Woerth, who is responsible for the French budget, diplomatically said there would have to be some ministerial belt-tightening from Dati's department. And she in turn has promised not to overshoot the €200,000 - again.
But that promise could be short lived, especially if she continues to enjoy spending the taxpayers' money at the current rate. France takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union in July and Dati could find the pressure to party big time irresistible.
If nothing else, she has proved herself a worthy accompaniment to what has so far been a Bling Bling president, although maybe now's the time for her to follow his example by dropping out of the limelight and being just a little more frugal.
The Foreign Legion - [image: The Foreign Legion] I stumbled upon them one day in the Invalides, back when I still lived in Paris. If I recall properly, it was around Bast...