France’s education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer is facing calls to resign after holidaying in Ibiza while the latest health rules for French schools were announced.
Blanquer was revealed to have been staying on the Spanish island when the latest strict protocols were made public — just one day before the start of the school year.
The rules were widely opposed by frustrated French schoolteachers and led to a major strike last week across the country.
Unions and politicians have now urged Blanquer to step down after Mediapart revealed he had been abroad while teachers and parents struggled to prepare children for the new regulations.
“Enough is enough. Jean-Michel Blanquer must resign,” tweeted Mathilde Panot from the left-wing LFI political group. Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has also criticised the minister’s “casualness”.
In a statement, Blanquer said he “regretted the symbolism” of his holiday venue, but denied breaking any laws.
“It turns out that the place I chose, I should have chosen probably another,” he told the National Assembly on Tuesday.
The French minister had already faced pressure over the recent one-day strike, which tens of thousands of teachers took part in.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal has confirmed that Blanquer was working remotely during his trip to Ibiza.
“There is a rule that is set for the government when it comes to holidays, you have to be reachable at all times, at your task. I have no reason to believe that this was not the case,” Attal said.
Several teachers’ unions have planned a new strike on Thursday to demand “strong responses” to the “chaos” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview on January 2, Blanquer had unveiled strict new protocols that French students must take more COVID-19 tests, adding to teachers’ administrative responsibilities. It was later revealed that Blanquer had been speaking from Ibiza during the interview.
Guislaine David, secretary-general of France’s largest primary school union (SNUipp-FSU) told AFP that Blanquer’s trip was a “terrible symbol”.
“It widens the gap between the minister and his staff,” she said. “We didn’t have a protocol that had been anticipated”.
“There is a real loss of his legitimacy and credibility,” David told AFP, adding that Blanquer was “no longer worthy of his position”.
It is “a symbol of a great casualness and a great lightness”, added Sophie Vénétitay, secretary-general of the Snes-FSU, a leading union in secondary education.
The calls for resignation come ahead of France’s presidential election, where incumbent Emmanuel Macron has been campaigning heavily on education.