Macron under fire for honouring Bezos with top award

President Emmanuel Macron was under fire from the French left on Friday for handing billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos the country's highest order of merit.

Critics said the award showed Macron really was "the president of the rich" as he is regularly labelled by members of the opposition.

Macron's office on Friday confirmed a press report from a day earlier, saying Bezos had been given the Legion d'Honneur (Legion of Honour), the French republic's highest award, in a small ceremony.

The event's took place on February 16, the same day hundreds of thousands of people joined strikes and protests against Macron's plan to reform the French pension system.

Critics say the reform plan is particularly unfair towards low-income workers without a university education, because they would see their already long working lives stretched out even further.

Macron's office kept quiet about the award ceremony until weekly Le Point broke the news in its latest edition.

On Friday, the Elysee Palace defended the decision to honour Bezos, calling him "a partner in France's initiatives for the protection of the climate and of biodiversity, especially of forests".

But the award unleashed a wave of angry comments from Macron's political opponents.

"He is more than ever the president of the rich," said Bastien Lachaud, a deputy for the leftwing LFI party.

"Having already given a decoration to (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman, a murderer of journalists, Macron has now awarded the Legion of Honour to Jeff Bezos, a champion of tax evasion, and a destroyer of jobs and nature," he said on Twitter.

- Rare award for business leader -

Addressing Bezos directly another LFI member, Leila Chaibi, said that "while we were marching against his pension reform, Macron awarded you a decoration in France's name for avoiding billions in tax, destroying the planet and spying on staff. A well-earned prize from the president of the rich".

Communist party leader Fabien Roussel said Macron's "doctrine" was to "punish all French people and reward the billionaires".

Socialist deputy Herve Saulignac said he "really can't understand" the justification for the award. "Is it for being the best tax evader? Or for being the greatest gravedigger of traditional retailers?", he asked.

Bezos's net worth is $119 billion, according to financial data company Bloomberg, making him the world's third-richest person after luxury empire LVMH's chairman Bernard Arnault and tech billionaire Elon Musk.

Some reports said that Arnault was at the Bezos award ceremony, but a source with knowledge of the guest list told AFP that he had not attended the event.

The Legion of Honour, first established by Napoleon Bonaparte at the start of the 19th century, is France's highest order of merit for both soldiers and civilians.

Primarily aimed at French nationals, it is also regularly awarded to foreigners if they are deemed to have served France or its ideals.

Past United States recipients include singer Bob Dylan, jazz star Miles Davis, culinary icon Julia Child, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Business leaders rarely get the award, although former Airbus chief John Leahy and Jeong H. Kim, former president of Bell Labs, are among the American exceptions.