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France – elegant or not that elegant country?

Published on April 20, 2012 by: in: Politics

Last year, a dispute over a cross at Presidential Palace marked the period of a holiday heat wave in Poland, pushing aside such political ‘trivialities’ like the Perennial State Finances Plan or the completion of operations of gambling commission. In order not to develop a complex or to get frustrated by how things are in Polish politics, it is profitable to take a closer look at French politics, rife with informal ‘agreements’ and ‘catwalks’, as well as politicians that could easily be called ‘men thriving on scandals’ by some.

Sex, lies and electoral campaigns

In March 2010 the news broke in French press that Nicolas Sarkozy and his third (and already second during this term) wife Carla Bruni are on the verge of breaking up, and each of them maintains extramarital relationships. The public opinion shook with outrage. The president’s frivolous attitude towards social mores, his fondness for luxury and ostentatious friendships with celebrities had for a long time  violated the unwritten rule that the politicians did not exhibit their private life and the French had a limited interest in it. The brawls about the president’s family life have broken out one after another in recent years. Sarkozy has kicked off badly his second term by embarking, as a president-elect, on a cruise in a luxurious yacht lent by his friend – a businessman. Soon after there has been a divorce with his second wife Cecilia and an attempt to make his 23-year old son Jean a head of the company managing the Paris’ business district – La Défense. Finally, the  rumours about the split-up of the Sarkozy – Bruni couple have been denied. Apparently, Sarkozy has taken a decision to carry on with his marriage until the end of his first term at least, which is in 2012.

Surely, the French Left did not fall behind. While in Poland the power was in the hands of twins, in France it was an unregistered marriage who solicited it. In the year 2007, a beautiful socialist female candidate Ségolene Royal stood in the way of Sarkozy during presidential race. Her then partner was a head of Socialist Party François Hollande. During electoral campaign, the couple, in the tabloids, made plans of upcoming formalising of their relationship that had lasted more than 20 years. Soon after having lost the campaign, Hollande moved away from Royal. It was revealed to public opinion that François was far from being an ideal faithful partner, and that their relationship had been fictitious.

photo: Brian Gratwicke

photo: Brian Gratwicke

In 2009 the scandal broke about the controversial way of spending holiday in Asia by minister of culture Fréderic Mitterand (the nephew of ex-president), described in one of his books. After the condemnation of sexual tourism by the public opinion, the minister hardly managed to keep his post.

At the same time a minister of justice in office, Rachida Dati bore a child, refusing to reveal the identity of his father. The press even speculated that the father of the child could be the president himself! Soon after Dati was dismissed; the purported reason was her incompetence.

‘The best of us’ and corruption scandals

The end of a moral scandal in France usually translates into a corruption one that is likely to break very soon. Each French president has contributed amply to this state of affairs.  At the beginning of the eighties, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing lost his chance for a second presidential term for he was not able to account for the diamonds that he had been seemingly offered by the African dictator Bokassa. Whereas in times of Mitterand, a scandal of selling frigates to Taiwan sank some politicians of the left. Even president’s son Jean-Christophe was involved in the illegal arms trade. Another malfeasance of arms trading to African countries had been examined for many years by judge Eva Joly, at present the euro-deputy of European Green Party. In the year 2002 Joly quitted her profession and left France for a couple of years, complaining about the ostracism of her professional sphere and the lack of possibility of action.

Jacques Chirac ‘merely’ struggled against the case of mysterious public subsidy for renovation of his private castle in Correze. But he was also forced to watch the judicial torments of his political son – Alain Juppé, involved in the scandal of non-existing posts in the City Hall of Paris  during Chirac’s term. The case torpedoed the development of Juppé’s career for many years and made impossible the solicitation of presidential office after Chirac by ‘the best of us’, as Chirac used to call Juppé.

It did not take long for Nicolas Sarkozy to follow the example of his predecessors. Eric Woerth, the minister of labour and treasurer of the governing party UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire – Union for a Popular Movement), was accused of accepting the illegal money transfers for Sarkozy’s electoral campaign from the richest female French Liliane Bettencourt, owner of the L’Oreal concern. What is more, it turned out that the Woerth’s wife worked for Bettencourt, and he was able to exert the taxation solutions that were favourable for the L’Oreal’s fortune heiress. As yet, Woerth lost the post of treasurer, but the damages to the reputation of both UMP and Sarkozy are likely to impact the next electoral campaign.  A presidential vision of France as a ‘republic without a flaw’ (‘République irréprochable’) that was formed during the electoral campaign in 2007, would not be implemented and has already  been consigned to oblivion.

The holiday brought the governing majority a respite from the Bettencourt scandal. Nevertheless, this what has been known since always was confirmed by the scandal: French politicians, and especially Nicolas Sarkozy, maintain very close relationships with the business sphere.

During last three years, Nicolas Sarkozy has retracted many promises that he had made during electoral campaign. He and his political surroundings were harmed by multiple scandals, and his private life can easily be called a stormy  one. But all of this did not  impede his ability to conduct policy, although  one could have assumed the contrary. During three years, he enforced a constitutional reform, played a major role on the European stage, reintroduced France to NATO military structures.

Of course, we will not encourage Polish politicians to adopt Sarkozy’s way of life. Nevertheless, perhaps some of them will follow his example when it comes to a long-term mode of governing, instead of short-sighted decisions?

Translation: Katarzyna Laprus

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About Wojciech Bialozyt

Graduate of Ecole Internationale des Sciences Politiques. He was an intern in the office of the European Parliament member Miquel Mayol and Raynal (ERC) and a consultant of the Regional Centre of European Information in Katowice. He took part in the observatory mission of the OSCE during the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2004, in 2006 he represented Poland on the UN conference ‘European youth Leadership Summit’. He works in the consulting company in Warsaw.

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