Have the French finally had enough of corruption?

In today's Le Monde, Arnaud Montebourg, rising star of the socialist party, says French voters have had enough of indulging politicians with their hands in the public accounts, and this presidential election will finally be the one where graft becomes a real issue for voters. It comes days after a Paris judge shocked most commentators by handing down a two-year suspended sentence to former president Jacques Chirac for embezzling 2.2 million euros from the city of Paris in the early 90s by paying it to friends and allies in salaries for jobs that never existed. He was widely expected to get away with it, due to his age, fragile health and the respect accorded to him as a former head of state, so the conviction is a credit to the justice system, but is it a sign France's tolerance has run out?


There are certainly plenty of current scandals for voters to be fed up about. There's the ongoing Karachigate affair, over kickbacks paid on French arms deals to Pakistan in the 1990s, which allegedly found their way into the accounts of then prime minister Edouard Balladur's presidential campaign - that has seen a number of former cabinet ministers testify in recent weeks, and is edging its way ever closer to Balladur's then spokesman, one Nicolas Sarkozy. There's the former government emissary to Africa, Robert Bourgi, who recently alleged he brought suitcases of cash from African leaders to a succession of senior French politicians. And there's the Bettencourt scandal, the envelopes of cash allegedly handed over by France's richest woman to a number of right-wing politicians, including, you guessed it, Nicolas Sarkozy when he was running for president in 2007. The socialist party isn't immune either - they're currently dealing with one embarrassing row in Marseille, where the regional president Jean-Noel Guerini is accused of corruptly selling state land to his developer brother, and one in the Calais region, where a local mayor is being investigated for corruption in housing contracts.


So far, so business as usual in France. The current political scene is still stuffed full of figures whose careers would long have been over in disgrace in the English-speaking world; take Alain Juppé, the former prime minister sentenced to jail time in the Chirac fake jobs scandal, who made a comeback this year as foreign minister and is being spoken of as a possible future president. Another former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, threw himself into the presidential race last week; he's been cleared of inventing false corruption charges against Sarkozy, but is still set to testify as a witness in two other graft cases in the coming months, and isn't clear of suspicion himself. This doesn't seem to affect either man's popularity, or, indeed, that of Chirac himself, who's still one of France's favourite former presidents - and was elected twice by voters who already knew perfectly well what he had been up to.


There's some evidence, though, that Montebourg might be right. The scandals I listed above are increasingly mentioned by voters asked for their electoral priorities by pollsters, and they have done damage to the current president's reputation - above all by giving fuel to the accusation he is only president for the wealthy. His socialist opponent François Hollande has made transparency a key campaign pledge, and some judges seem to have found a renewed zeal for chasing up decades-old corruption cases. That leads to increased media attention shining a light on murky deals, something that's long been absent in France, where journalists often get too friendly with the politicians they cover. It might be premature to say the Chirac case represents a turning point, and from now on we'll see France's elected representatives held to higher ethical standards, but there's hope.

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of FRANCE 24. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. FRANCE 24 is not liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • No HTML tags allowed

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.