London: France’s highest order of merit has been called a ‘joke’ after Salma Hayek was made a Chevalier - the country’s most prestigious order of merit.
The news that she was being made a Knight of the Legion of Honour along with other actors and singers prompted one former minister to refuse the award, while others warned it would see Napoleon ‘turning in his grave’.
Hayek is married to billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault who also happens to be a close friend of Nicolas Sarkozy.
The French President has the last word on who will receive the Legion of Honour, which was created by Napolean Bonaparte in 1802.
Hayek will also see her father-in-law, Francois Pinault, when she is given a medal by the President at the Elysee Palace in a few weeks’ time. He founded the PPR group his son now runs and has been made a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour in the same list.
This year’s honours list drew an angry response from many - including Henri Torre, the 78-year-old former minister and member of Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, who turned down a Legion of Honour and said that it had become tainted with ‘croneyism’.
“Too many people have been nominated who do not deserve to be honoured,” the Telegraph quoted him as saying.
“They have made a mockery of this high distinction by naming any old people,” he said.
According to a commentator on the website of L’Express, Napolean would be ‘turning in his grave’.
According to the government’s official journal, Hayek was chosen for her work as ‘director and producer (and) active member of charitable foundations for 23 years’.
“Why not Tintin and Milou?” a reader of Le Figaro said.
Some suggested that Sarkozy was trying to ‘buy’ popularity with the list before the 2012 presidential elections.
“The way things are going with Sarkozy, refusing the award will soon be a mark of honour,” said another reader.
Criticism of the Legion of Honour’s opaque, highly political selection process is nothing new but has reached new heights under the current French president.
Investigators are currently probing allegations that Eric Woerth, the former labour minister under Sarkozy and one-time party treasurer, was guilty of a conflict of interest involving the honour when he awarded it to a wealth manager who had hired Woerth’s wife just five months earlier.
There was also controversy in 2008, when Sarkozy decorated the magistrate who pronounced his divorce from second wife Cecilia.
In 1998, then president Jacques Chirac decorated the entire French football team after its World Cup final victory.