Shortly after the French Right nominated Russian President Putin’s friend Francois Fillon as its candidate in the forthcoming French Presidential election, he has been hit with a scandal that threatens to derail his campaign. Indeed Fillon is now coming under pressure to pull out of the race entirely.
Fillon is facing accusations that his wife Penelope received around 500,000 euros over eight years for doing fake jobs, first for Fillon himself, and then for Fillon’s deputy Marc Joulaud, who took over from Fillon as a minister in the government in 2002.
Fillon emphatically denies the charge but is under investigation by the French police. The scandal meanwhile has effected his poll ratings, which have fallen below those of the “centrist” candidate Emmanuel Macron, who is now the favourite to win the second round of the French Presidential race against Marine Le Pen.
I do not know whether or not the allegations against Fillon and his wife are true. Given the realities of French politics, quite possibly they are true. However it is generally acknowledged that what Fillon is being accused of is a well nigh universal practice within the French political elite. That does not of course make it excusable but it does beg the question of why it has been brought up against him now.
It is difficult for an outsider to avoid the impression that the revelations about the payments to Fillon’s wife are being publicised in order to prevent a known critic of the EU’s sanctions policy against Russia from winning the French Presidency. Anyone who has been following the media coverage of the French Presidential election over the last few weeks cannot also have failed to notice how the stops are being pulled out to make sure Macron – a committed Europeanist and a believer in all the neo-liberal orthodoxies – wins the election.
Meanwhile, in order to add spice up Macron’s appeal, he is being presented to the French people as an independent and an outsider, even though he is a former banker who was a minister in Francois Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist government, and is a graduate – like Hollande – of France’s elite graduate school, the École nationale d’administration, which traditionally trains France’s civil service elite (other graduates apart from Hollande include former Presidents Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Jacques Chirac, and former Prime Ministers Laurent Fabius, Michel Rocard, Édouard Balladur, Alain Juppé (Fillon’s rival for leadership of the French Right), Lionel Jospin, and Dominique de Villepin).
Whether this ploy works remains to be seen. To an outsider it bears some similarity to the US establishment’s stitch up of the Democratic Party’s nomination process to ensure that the perennial insider – Hillary Clinton – became the Democratic Party’s nominee for President rather than the more popular but more suspect Bernie Sanders. The outcome of that was the victory of the outsider Donald Trump.
Whether the French establishment’s boosting of the ultimate insider Emmanuel Macron – and the ridiculous attempt to pass him off as an “outsider” – is more successful in seeing off the challenge of the genuine outsider Marine Le Pen remains to be seen.