Monday, March 27, 2017

Juicy French Politics

The current administration is mired in controversy, ranging from conflicts of interest and foreign meddling in our elections, to sexual misconduct, but looking at what is happening in France, we certainly don’t have the monopoly on political scandals.

The French Presidential elections are around the corner and of the five candidates that are competing for the job, two are under investigation: Francois Fillon, leader of the conservative party ‘Les Republicains’ and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right populist party ‘Front National’.

If you think it unethical for Trump to hire family members to help him govern, you only have to look at France to see that nepotism is not exclusive to America. Giving positions to family members is actually common amongst French politicians, but the latest scandal going by the name ‘Penelopegate’ was too much to swallow for the French voter.

Francois Fillon, is charged with paying his wife $1 million with public money for a job as his assistant, that she never fulfilled. Fillon is seen as a hypocrite, since he has proposed cuts to civil servant jobs to save money.

Front National leader Marine Le Pen is also facing charges of paying staff for non-existent jobs at the European Parliament, but whereas Fillon’s ratings have plummeted, Le Pen seems to hold her lead as the front runner in the elections.

The young, charismatic Emmanuel Macron, leader of a new centrist party called ‘En Marche!’ (On the Move), is now in second place. This new arrival on the scene is reminiscent of the young Barak Obama. He is a centrist, is pro-Europe and seems to appeal to both the right and the left.

Fareed Zacharia’s take is that Macron is an anti-dote to the growing radical forces, both right and left. He might very well defeat Marine Le Pen in the second round and become the next French President.

He has an unconventional personal story, married to his former high school teacher, a woman 24 years his senior. They met when he was a 15 year old 10th grader and she was a 40-year old mother of three. His alarmed parents sent him to finish high-school in Paris, but the 15 year old told his future wife ‘you won’t get rid of me. I will return and will marry you’, which he did in 2007.

He is the favorite of gossip magazines, of course and true to the French spirit, his unconventional marriage is described as a ‘a charming love affair’, although some critics accuse him of being a ‘chouchou’, a teacher’s pet, who is flaunting his personal life to win votes.

Unless the roles were reversed (Trump is 24 years older than his wife), their relationship would be frowned upon in this country and we probably would brand him as a ‘gold digger’, a ‘gigolo’ or worse. But the French admire a politician’s openness and are much more tolerant of less conventional conduct.

The two left wing candidates Benoit Hamon and Jean-Luc Melenchon are trailing the other three. Melenchon is a French Bernie Sanders. He wants to leave the EU, slash the retirement age and introduce a universal basic income. But it looks like there is a lot of infighting on the left and probably the reason why these two candidates are not doing well. Or maybe the French don’t want a President they cannot gossip about.

Either way, if we run out of juicy stories here at home, which is unlikely to happen with Trump at the helm, we know we can always rely on France to fill the gap. leave comment here