President Emmanuel Macron of France has suffered a major blow in his tense strike standoff with unions over pension reform after its architect resigned over a conflict-of-interest scandal.
Jean-Paul Delevoye, Mr Macron’s high commissioner for pensions, had come under increasing pressure to step down for failing to disclose a high-paying private sector job while in government, which is illegal under the French constitution.
He also “forgot” to inform France’s political transparency body that he held unpaid positions on various boards, including one linked to insurance and national rail operator SNCF – both with vested interests in pension reform.
In all he had omitted his role in 13 bodies, including two paid posts.
In a statement, Mr Delevoye said his credibility had been undermined by "violent attacks" by unions and opposition leaders seeking to discredit a pensions overhaul he dubbed “essential for France."
He confessed to having displayed “culpable irresponsibility” over the omissions and pledged to pay back the money, totalling more than €120,000 (£100,000) since September 2017.
"Jean-Paul Delevoye made these omissions in good faith, he will now be able to explain himself," an official in the French presidency said, adding that Mr Macron will name a new commissioner "as soon as possible".
France’s political transparency watchdog will decide whether to press charges on Wednesday.
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A Gaullist former Chirac ally, Mr Delevoye was instrumental in drawing up a new, “universal, points-based” pension system that Mr Macron promised in his election manifesto would be a fairer replacement of the current one, with its bewildering 42 different regimes, some with generous perks.
His departure is a major loss to the French president as he was a trusted ally with cabinet experience and deep technical knowledge of the pension system.
Lauded even by hardline unions as a man they could do business with, Mr Delevoye nevertheless oversaw a reform that has triggered a 12-day strike, which some unions say could drag on over Christmas unless the government scraps it.
On Monday, the Sorbonne in Paris said it had cancelled or postponed year-end exams because of potential travel problems for students.
Meanwhile, most metro lines in the capital remained closed or operated skeleton services. Only one in three of France’s high-speed TGV trains and one in four regional trains were running.
The resignation came a day before unions staged a third day of national protest since the movement began on December 5.
The hardline CGT wants the pension reform scrapped altogether, while more moderate unions, including the powerful CFDT, back the new system but are up in arms over a move to effectively raise the full retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2027.