Two more ministers from the centrist party that helped bring French President Emmanuel Macron to power quit the government on Wednesday as he prepared to unveil a new Cabinet.
Justice Minister Francois Bayrou, leader of the small MoDem party and a key ally of Macron’s in the presidential campaign, told AFP: “I have taken a decision not to be part of the next government.”
European Affairs Minister Marielle de Sarnez is also set to resign, meaning all three MoDem ministers are leaving the Cabinet after just over one month in office.
Defence Minister Sylvie Goulard stood down on Tuesday, saying she could not carry on while MoDem was facing an investigation into claims it broke European Parliament rules by using funds to pay assistants who are actually based in France.
MoDem entered an alliance with Macron’s 14-month-old Republic on the Move (REM) movement for the presidential and legislative elections.
In exchange, the president rewarded the party for its support by giving them key jobs in his first Cabinet — a caretaker government between the two elections.
France’s youngest ever president has pledged to usher in a new era of cleaner politics after a series of scandals involving ministers under his Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande.
Observers say that pledge makes it difficult for Macron to keep MoDem in his new government while it is facing a probe.
Richard Ferrand, a junior minister from Macron’s party, has also left the government, this time at the president’s request after he became embroiled in a conflict-of-interest scandal involving his wife.
Macron hopes to complete a reshuffle later Wednesday after his party won a commanding majority in the parliamentary elections at the weekend.
REM took 308 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, meaning it does not need the support of MoDem, which won 42 seats, to push legislation through parliament.
But Bayrou’s departure also deprives Macron of a centrist partner as he seeks to pull together a new government to push forward his pro-business agenda.
Bayrou, 66, was a key backer of Macron’s 14-month-old party during the presidential campaign, and his support was crucial in lending legitimacy to the inexperienced candidate.
When Bayrou threw his weight behind Macron’s fledging party, the future president hailed it as a “turning point” in his campaign.
Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said Bayrou’s decision to quit was a “personal choice” which “simplifies the situation”.
“He wanted to defend himself in this affair,” Castaner told Europe 1 radio.
The opposition Republicans called the resignations a “political scandal” and a “major government crisis”.
“A quarter of the government has gone,” said Laurent Wauquiez, the conservative party’s vice-president.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front who lost to Macron in the presidential election, said Bayrou had been discarded because he was no longer any use to the president.
“I think Macron used Bayrou during the presidential campaign and now that he has a majority without MoDem, he has tossed him away like an old rag,” Le Pen said as she took up her seat in the National Assembly.
Le Pen’s party has been investigated over similar accusations of misusing European Parliament funds to pay for staff in France.
Bayrou, who has run three times for president, has dismissed the allegations against his party.
Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation this month after the claims first emerged in the Canard Enchaine investigative newspaper.
Bayrou himself had announced plans to ban lawmakers from hiring family members, one of a raft of proposals under Macron’s bid to clean up politics.
The new president has said he wants to restore confidence in politicians which has been battered by a string of allegations of abuse.
One major scandal swirls around conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon, who is accused of paying his wife around 900,000 euros ($1 million) to work as his parliamentary assistant with little evidence she performed many tasks.