The first months of the ministry of Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the French energy transition minister, were mainly c. sobriété energitique, energy efficiency. Appointed in May (on behalf of Renaissance, President Macron’s party), Pannier-Runacher tirelessly reiterated that companies should use less energy and urged citizens to do the same.
In smoothly directed videos and at press conferences, she gave tips on how the French could use 10 percent less oil, gas and electricity in two years. “It’s good for the planet, of course, but it also helps to get through the winter and get rid of Russian gas in the coming years,” she said delightedly in a video shot in the forest this summer.
Here, a woman speaks who wants the best for the planet, one would think. But anyone who has googled the name Pannier-Runacher in recent days gets a very different picture. A revelation by the independent research platform Disclose has raised questions about possible conflicts of interest for the minister.
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A week ago, Disclose reported that Jean-Michel Runacher, father of the minister and former CEO of the oil company Perenco, created a company in 2016 in the name of his minor grandchildren, the children of the minister. That company, Arjunem, invested 1.2 million euros in three hedge funds that Perenco also invested in. It is not clear which funds are involved, but all three invest in fossil fuels. They are also located in tax-friendly locations such as Guernsey and the US state of Delaware. Pannier-Runacher signed on in the summer of 2016 to allow her children, then aged five, ten and thirteen, to become shareholders.
According to Disclose, the family had found a way with the construction to ensure that the future legacy of Runacher senior would end unencumbered by his grandchildren. Now the Pannier-Runacher family seems mainly to have damaged the minister’s reputation. Because since the revelation, France has wondered whether someone with family capital stashed away in oil-derived tax havens is the right person to lead the energy transition.
Criticism of the ‘macronie’
Critics see the scandal as further confirmation that the ‘Macronie’, President Emmanuel Macron’s entourage, is made up of wealthy people whose goal is self-enrichment rather than improving the lives of ‘ordinary’ French people. Part of the criticism of Pannier-Runacher is that she is a macronist from the first hour.
When Arjunem was founded in 2016, she was joining the campaign team of future presidential candidate Macron. And when he was elected president, she became state secretary for the economy, industry minister and, since May, minister for energy transition.
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An exposé from Politico added some fuel to the fire after the news from Disclosure. The political news website reported a few days ago that Pannier-Runacher lives in a property owned by the influential but controversial Dassault family. This family became rich through, among other things, the construction of fighter planes and enjoys great influence in French media and politics. She was also repeatedly in the news with corruption cases.
Minister Pannier-Runacher tries to shake off all criticism by pointing out the rules: because she was not personally involved in Arjunem, she did not have to report the company’s existence as a minister. And that her house belongs to the Dassaults, she would not have known – and it is not punishable either.
President Macron and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne will continue to support the minister for now, but her ministry has been tainted. The High Authority for Transparency in Public Life has opened an investigation into Pannier-Runacher. On Tuesday, it was announced that she is no longer allowed to interfere in matters related to Perenco and two other companies.