It has been awhile since the Elysee Palace ordered new dinnerware. Some of the plates at the French presidential residence date as far back as the 1950s and are missing certain pieces.
So President Emmanuel Macron and wife Brigitte shelled out $58,000 for a new 1,200-piece set, which includes 300 bread plates and 900 presentation plates.
The Sevres porcelain factory is responsible for making the plates for the Elysee Palace, and the cost will come out of its annual budget — which is partially funded by France’s Culture Ministry. The factory has supplied plates to the Elysee since the 1800s, and the price the president paid, the Elysee said, will go toward the artists who designed the new plates.
But on Wednesday, the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné claimed that the plates may actually cost upward of $580,000. The paper publishes some fiction but has a history of exposing scandals and bringing down French politicians. And, according to its analysis, hand-painting a single plate would cost at least $465. (Other French publications have estimated that it’s about half that.)
The accusations come at an inconvenient time for Macron. On Tuesday, his office posted a video to Twitter in which Macron says that France is spending “crazy money” on welfare. “We must prevent poverty and make people take more responsibility for themselves to break out of poverty,” he said.
Those remarks alone caused a social-media frenzy. Then the plate scandal broke, and French citizens mocked the discrepancy between Macron’s potentially lavish spending versus his critique of welfare programs. Many responded with pictures of their own plates, advertising the price and asking why Macron couldn’t have bought them at Ikea instead.
“Hello Emmanuel Macron,” comedian and prankster Rémi Gaillard posted on Twitter. “Are you really going to eat on 420 euro plates? I’m just leaving the supermarket, where the most expensive plate cost 4.50 euro.” He added a hashtag that translates to “fairy dust,” a reference to when Macron used the term to describe far-right politician Marine Le Pen’s promises on the campaign trail.
Another person tweeted that to avoid spending “crazy money” on plates, he just looked around his basement and found one. “What if you did the same at the Elysee?” he asked, adding that it would probably be worth saving 500,000 euro.
The United States once had its own presidential plate scandal, when first lady Nancy Reagan spent more than $200,000 on china for the White House during a recession. It cost almost $1,000 per setting, and she funded it with donations sent to the White House Historical Association.