In the world of crustaceans, lobsters are neither the fastest nor the most powerful in terms of claw strength. In the human world, however, recent events suggest that lobsters sometimes have the power to influence national governments:
- On July 9, the Jerusalem Post reported that after a recent lunch between Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Israeli Ambassador to Brazil Yossi Shelley, the Israeli Embassy in Brazil released a photo of the two men at lunch, but used crude black X’s over their plates to conceal the fact that the two men had been eating lobster. The failed attempt at concealment made headlines in both Brazil and Israel.
- Yesterday, the New York Times and numerous media outlets reported that French Environment Minister François De Rugy was forced to resign, after reports that in 2017 and 2018, De Rugy, while serving as President of the National Assembly, had hosted a number of lavish dinners, at taxpayer expense. Those dinners reportedly featured lobster tails and, according to the French investigative website Mediapart, “bottles of vintage wines and champagnes taken from parliamentary cellars to guests who were mainly personal friends of the couple.”
Some of the media coverage of the allegations surrounding De Rugy tended to make light of the situation, referring to the affair as “Lobstergate.” De Rugy’s resignation, however, should be of concern within the European Union (EU), as it represents only the latest example this year of senior officials in EU countries who were forced to resign over allegations that they misused government funds for personal benefit or their positions for personal or political benefit:
- Austria: In May, Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned after media reports that in a meeting that was recorded as part of a sting operation, he had promised public contracts in return for campaign aid from a woman who falsely indicated that she was a potential Russian backer.
- Bulgaria: This spring, Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva, Deputy Energy Minister Krasimir Parvanov, and Deputy Sports Minister Vanya Koleva, and Agriculture Minister Rumen Porozhanov were compelled to step down, as the result of investigations into the buying of luxury apartments at below-market prices and the use of European Union funds to build guest houses that were actually put to private use.
- Croatia: State Assets Minister Goran Marić resigned yesterday over media reports of impropriety in the purchase and sales of flats and the renovation of a part of a Franciscan monastery, and Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević resigned last week in the face of allegations that he had put his personal financial interests ahead of the public interest.
This spate of resignations should prompt the European Commission to look beyond publishing ethical guidance for research projects and artificial intelligence, and inform EU Member States that if they do not act more aggressively to establish and enforce clear ethical standards for their respective national-level officials, it will consider doing so on an EU-wide basis.
As each of the situations described above demonstrate, ethical wrongdoing by government officials, even if it falls short of criminal violations, fosters public distrust of government. Unlike the lobsters in Alice in Wonderland’s Lobster Quadrille, who risked only being thrown out to sea at the end of the Quadrille, national leaders who fail to hold their governments’ officials accountable for significant ethical misconduct may risk undermining the political stability of their countries.
Postscript: On July 23, France24 reported that two reports, by the office of French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and an investigative panel of the National Assembly, “cleared [De Rugy] of excessive spending.” The Prime Minister’s Office’s report, which “focused on de Rugy’s spending of 63,000 euros to refurbish his official apartment,” “concluded the rules were ‘globally respected’.” The National Assembly report “concerned a dozen dinners held when de Rugy presided over parliament’s lower house. It said there were ‘no irregularities’ but looked askance at three dinners viewed as over the top.”