As French President Francois Hollande admits he will do everything in his power to stop Marine Le Pen from being elected French President, criminal accusations are being brought against her not just for republishing ISIS videos but also for making false claims for public funds to pay her staff.
This closely mirrors the charges brought against the former front runner, Francois Fillon, over alleged illegal payments to his family.
Just a few weeks ago Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen were odds-on favourites to go through to the second round of the French Presidential election, with Fillon expected to win the run-off. The charges which have been brought against Fillon have pushed down his rating after it appeared to recover so that he is now trailing both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, whilst Marine Le Pen’s once clear lead over Emmanuel Macron has been dented, and she is now polling roughly equally with him.
Both Fillon and Le Pen are claiming that the charges brought against them are politically motivated. They are being roundly denounced for doing so, though the timing – if nothing else – suggests they are right.
I am here going to say that I am gradually coming round to the view that the charges against Fillon and Le Pen not only are politically motivated, but that in the case of Fillon the intention was to drive him out of the race so as to replace him with Alain Juppé, who has always been the French establishment’s preferred choice for President. If that is right then the extraordinary rise over the last few weeks of Emmanuel Macron is every bit as artificial as it looks, and was intended to keep the race open so as to provide space for Juppé to take over.
There has in fact been an orchestrated attempt to get Fillon to stand aside in order to open the way for Juppé. This was supposed to come to a culmination today, when the Republicans – Fillon’s and Juppé’s party – were due to hold a meeting at which the plan appears to have been that Fillon would be forced to step aside to make way for Juppé. Probably not coincidentally a series of opinion polls have appeared in recent days that appear to show that were this to happen Juppé would replace Le Pen and Macron as the front runner, putting him in a good position to win the Presidency.
What makes all this to an outsider like me completely bizarre is that though Fillon is being accused of false claims for public funds to pay his family, Juppé has actually been convicted in 2004 of the felony of abuse of public funds, for which he was sentenced to an 18 months suspended jail term subsequently cut to 14 months on appeal.
In other words the French elite has been pushing to replace someone who has only been charged with an offence (and who is therefore entitled to the presumption of innocence) with someone who a court has already found guilty of an offence.
In any event if the plan actually was to force Fillon out of the race in order to open the way for Juppé to become President, then the scheme looks like it is about to unravel. Following a big rally of Fillon’s supporters in Paris over the weekend, Fillon has announced his determination to fight on, causing Juppé to rule himself out of the race.
It remains very difficult to see how Fillon can recover his position in the polls given the huge dent he has suffered. By contrast Marine Le Pen as the anti-establishment candidate looks far more likely to put charges that are being made against her behind her. Indeed there is a fair chance that by allowing her to claim that she is the target of persecution by the establishment the accusations made against her will eventually play out in her favour.
Unless the French establishment finds some other way to get Fillon out of the race it therefore now looks like the run-off will be fought between Marine Le Pen and the little known, inexperienced and frankly artificial candidate Emmanuel Macron.