SAINT-DENIS, LA REUNION, France (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Thursday he regretted his decision to fly with his children to a football match in a government aircraft and promised to reimburse the taxpayer for their flights.
In a bid to end a political row over what he repeated was predominantly a government business trip, Valls said: “If it was to come up again, I would not do it, and to remove any ambiguity, any doubt, I will take on the cost of the trip for my two children, of 2,500 euros” ($2,828).
The prime minister has taken a tough line against abuse of power by France’s political elite, and the affair has been characterised in local media as his first serious political gaffe since he took on the job last year.
Valls was speaking to reporters during a visit to French overseas territory of La Reunion.
A longstanding Barcelona fan, Valls flew in a government jet to Berlin to watch the Spanish club beat Juventus 3-1 in Saturday’s Champions League final at the invitation of Michel Platini, head of the European football body UEFA.
Earlier this week, opposition politicians accused Valls of using taxpayers money for a private event.
Valls and other government officials have since defended the flight as predominantly state business to discuss preparations for the Euro 2016 football tournament in France and the corruption scandal engulfing world football body FIFA.
They also held fast to that position after it emerged on Tuesday that two of Valls children had accompanied him.
In his statement on Thursday, Valls repeated that the excursion was an official one. He said it was his role “to represent France at important sporting events when our country is going to host major competitions.”
He added: “French people understand that a prime minister who moves around with a large group of security people has to use a government plane.” He said that flying his children with him on that official plane actually led to no additional costs.
($1 = 0.8839 euros)
Reporting by Bernard Grollier; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Ingrid Melander