Backlash as French ministers wrap up warm to set energy example

<span>Photograph: Benoît Tessier/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Benoît Tessier/Reuters

French ministers have been photographed in puffer jackets and polo necks instead of suits, in an attempt to set an example on wrapping up warm as the nation struggles to afford heating this winter.

But political opponents attacked the government’s winter wardrobe messaging as nannying and out of touch with people’s struggles over the energy crisis and cost of living.

The far-right Marine Le Pen, who heads the largest opposition party in parliament, made a comparison to the French queen Marie Antoinette, tweeting: “Don’t have enough heating? Let them wear cashmere.”

After the president, Emmanuel Macron, said people would need to save energy and lower their heating, the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, raised eyebrows this week when she held an office meeting seated at her desk wearing a zipped-up puffer jacket.

Borne tweeted several pictures of herself wearing the quilted jacket at work.

She then presented the government’s hydrogen strategy, similarly wrapped up in a puffer jacket.

This came after the economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, was asked by a listener on a radio programme whether government offices would delay putting on their heating until December, as the listener’s child’s school was having to do.

Le Maire said everyone was saving energy. He said: “So you’ll no longer see me in a suit and tie, but in a polo neck. I think that will be very good, it will allow us to save energy …”

Le Maire released a smiling picture of himself checking his phone at his desk while wearing a polo neck.

The energy transition minister, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, seemed to go one step further, appearing at an event alongside the prime minister wearing a polo neck as well as a thin puffer jacket with her suit jacket over the top.

Gaspard Gantzer, a former communications adviser to the Socialist president François Hollande, said it was “grotesque” and “paternalistic” form of messaging. “There’s an element of ‘my dear children, do as your parents do, wear a big jumper.’”

Related: Macron warns of ‘end of abundance’ as France faces difficult winter

Thomas Porcher, an economist, told France Inter radio: “I don’t expect an economy minster for the sixth or seventh economy in the world to tell me to put a polo neck on. That’s for my mother or grandmother to do.” He said the major issue was how France had organised its energy sector.

Gilles Le Gendre, a Paris lawmaker for Macron’s centrist party, then drew accusations of being out of touch with everyday reality when he told France Info television that politicians should set an example on saving energy.

“For example, my wife and I no longer use a tumble dryer, we hang our laundry. Honestly it’s not that complicated to do,” he said.

Environmentalists accused the government of promoting tiny measures while failing to take enough action on the climate crisis.