Assembly ethics officer pins Grégoire de Fournas for promoting his wine on Twitter – Liberation

On the account where he presents himself as “deputy”, the elected RN published a tweet on Wednesday referring to the site where the bottles produced in the winery belonging to his family are sold.

He was suspended for fifteen days from the National Assembly, his fault “he is[s] come back[nt] in Africa”, deputy RN Grégoire de Fournas knows not to forget. The elected representative of the Gironde, who has also maintained the profession of winegrower he used, has been singled out again, this time by the ethics officer of the Assembly, for the specific promotion of wine that he does on social networks.

To sell the bottles produced at Château Vieux-Cassan, the family estate, the elected official decided to promote it on his Twitter account, early Wednesday night. “Many people contacted me to order wine. It is now possible […] Thank you for your support !”writes from Fournas in the content published on Wednesday evening, referring to a site that, until now, offers only one reference for sale: a 2019 Médoc. This Thursday, by noon, the tweet was removed.

In the meantime, the publication made many tweeters, especially the independent journalist No Danger wondering if the member is within his rights to do so “product placement”. According to specialized media in parliamentary life Project Arcadiabetter for Grégoire de Fournas to abstain “to use his MP Twitter account to promote his winery”. In doing so, he would have violated the code of ethics of the representatives (available on the Assembly site), and in particular its article 1st which states that “Representatives must act in the sole interest of the Nation and the citizens they represent, excluding any satisfaction of a private interest or obtaining a financial or material benefit for themselves or their relatives .” The ethics officer of the National Assembly, responsible for ensuring compliance with this code, seems to be joining them because, according to a parliamentary source quoted by AFP, he has just pinned the deputy RN for the promotion of his wine on Twitter.

Gender confusion

Continuity of activity is out of the question. The deputy is authorized to continue his wine growing activities in conjunction with his duties as a deputy. “A parliamentarian has the right, except for specific exceptions, to combine this parliamentary function with a private function”, said Jean-Eric Gicquel, professor of public law at the University of Rennes-I, co-author of an academic work on parliamentary law. In this case, no professional incompatibility is characterized. And so “he also has the right to advertise”.

But not under any conditions. To determine if the elected Girondin failed in his ethical obligations, it is therefore necessary to know if we are really dealing with commercial advertising on the one hand, and on the other hand if it is through the use of his quality of representative sent it. On the first point, public law lecturer at the University of Poitiers Basile Ridard emphasizes that the offending tweet “may be subject to this type of advertising and in this regard, article 150 of the electoral code prohibits any deputy from making or allowing his name to appear, followed by an indication of his capacity, in any advertising related to a financial, industrial or commercial company.”.

The second point concerns the confusion of genres between his hat as a representative and that of a winegrower. The Twitter account that served as a promotional channel is what he uses to talk about his activities as a deputy. In the biography at the top of his profile, Grégoire de Fournas presents himself as a “deputy of the Gironde”, while also mentioning his work as a winegrower.

Input from the ethics officer… after the tweet

In order not to slip, the representatives can turn to the ethics officer of the National Assembly. In fact, underlined Basile Ridard, “Article 8 of the code of ethics, related to its respect, says that the ethics officer “may be hired by any representative who wishes, for his personal case, to consult him in respect of the principles set forth in code of ethics”. It is an ethical reflex that may be more rooted in the French parliamentary culture, although in 2021, the ethics officer has been called in 642 times.

Grégoire de Fournas assured BFMTV that he contacted the current ethics officer of the Assembly on Thursday to find out what action to take… but after his tweet. “I sent him an email this morning to get his position. For me there is no problem but I will follow his possible recommendations»he assured.

The ethics officer can also act on his own when he detects a violation of ethics rules. So, explains Basile Ridard, “if it is confirmed that the deputy used his account [Twitter] for private interests, that the ethics officer asked him to retract the disputed tweet and that the deputy refused to comply, which could lead to possible consequences”, upon the arrival of a potential disciplinary sanction, a priori a call to order.

Call to order a Modem MP

The code of conduct has been used in similar cases involving MPs. In November 2017, former MP Modem Thierry Robert was called to order after using the Facebook account where he appeared as a parliamentarian to advertise one of his real estate companies. The Assembly’s former ethics officer ordered him to withdraw these advertisements “to create confusion between the exercise of his political mandate and private interest”. Not following these recommendations, he received a call to order from the President of the National Assembly, before finally withdrawing the content in question. Also in November 2017, elected LFI François Ruffin was reprimanded for promoting an issue of his newspaper Fakir in a video posted on YouTube, shot from his office in the Assembly, and devoted to his parliamentary activity. But he has for his part complied with the requests of the ethics officer, and “removed the disputed part of the video in question”recalled Basile Ridard.

Although social networks have become the new media for political communication in recent years, this situation raises many questions about the uses that can be made by elected officials and other political representatives. The problem arose significantly, before the last presidential election, of knowing whether ministers could use their Twitter accounts to defend the candidacy of the outgoing president (a topic previously discussed by CheckNews). No clear line has been set yet.

Some suggest that the issue can be solved by creating two separate Twitter accounts, making it possible to separate the communication related to the activity of an MP on the one hand, and that linked to professional activity on the other.

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