behind French politics
POLICE agents searched the residence
and office of former French President Nicolas
Sarkozy just two weeks after he lost his
presidential immunity, and did so in an
intentionally visible manner.
The investigation into the illegal
funding of Sarkozy’s election campaign by the
L’Oreal corporation began in 2010, giving rise, to
everyone’s surprise, to the much talked about case
of Lilliane Bettencourt, former owner of the
cosmetics empire, whose family ended up embroiled in
internal wrangling and hereditary rights.
It emerged from a recording of
telephone conversations made public by Bettencourt’s
butler that one of the richest women in the world
allegedly evaded taxes amounting to considerable
sums and, moreover, received tax advantages worth
millions of euros from former Minister of Labor Eric
Woerth, a close collaborator of Sarkozy’s.
After that, Claire Thibout,
Bettencourt’s former accountant, stated that French
politicians with conservative leanings, including
Nicolas Sarkozy, had allegedly received envelopes
containing cash at the Bettencourt mansion, while
Woerth, as treasurer of the Union for a Popular
Movement (UMP), received an envelope containing
150,000 euros for Sarkozy’s election campaign.
The illegal financing of election
campaigns is the Achilles heel of French
politicians, both conservative and socialist.
Sarkozy’s presidential predecessor, Jacques Chirac,
recently received a two-year prison term. Due to his
delicate state of health, he was unable to attend
the court hearings or complete his sentence in a
He pleaded guilty to having created
fictitious posts during the second half of the
1990’s in the Paris mayor’s office, which he headed
for close to 20 years. The salaries of the
non-existent employees swelled his Party’s accounts.
Similar charges were filed against Alain Juppé,
Chirac’s collaborator, until recently Minister of
Foreign affairs in Sarkozy’s cabinet.
The socialists do not have a much
better record; during the presidency of François
Mitterrand (1981-1995), mentor of the current head
of state, François Hollande, the state oil
corporation Elf Aquitaine served almost officially
as a source of funds for public administrations.
A shameful mix of personal,
political, state and commercial interests was
revealed in early 2000 during investigations into
the Elf case. Christine Deviers-Joncour, the lover
of one of France’s most famous socialists, Roland
Dumas, was involved in it. Dumas denied all charges
and finally emerged intact from the situation, but
in 2007, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment
for undue appropriation of funds.
Not long ago, an incident occurred
which reveals the way in which the dubious dealings
of France’s two most important parties overlap. In
2008, almost 300 million euros were returned, out of
court, to the former politician of socialist
leanings and magnate Bernard Tapie. The decision to
do this was made by then Finance Minister Christine
Lagarde, now director of the IMF.
Tapie, a successful businessman,
specializing in injecting capital into and reselling
important enterprises (he was at one time co-owner
of Adidas), owned the famous Olympique football club
and was a minister in a Socialist government. He was
tipped as another Silvio Berlusconi.
He was sent to prison in 1990 for
fixing game results, which ruined his potential
political career and converted him into a fervent
admirer of Nicolas Sarkozy.
It is precisely this close
relationship which analysts link to French
government’s strange decision to support the
business magnate in the long-running legal case
Tapie brought against Credit Lyonnais, which had
gone bankrupt and been placed under state control.
Tapie accused the bank of fraud during the sale of
Adidas. Lagarde’s role in the matter has not been
The public attacks on Sarkozy have a
logical explanation: they are the other side of his
own political style, based on an unbreakable
relation between commercial and state interests.
Experts agree that this was why the electorate
decided to turn its back on Sarkozy. And as his way
of conducting himself has always been characterized
by arrogance and haughtiness, it is not surprising
that certain people wish to put the former president
in his place. And everything seems to indicate that
the crimes are there to incriminate him.
However, the problem does not lie in
Sarkozy’s personality, but in the current political
culture which allows for removing the boundaries
between the private and public, commercial and state.
It is one of the consequences of the erosion
riddling institutions which is so characteristic of
Past experiences have shown us that
double standards and systemic corruption have always
been aspects of politics in general, not only French
ones. But the globalized and universal environment
has given this phenomenon a new dimension and
ideological discrepancies have ended up disappearing
together with ethical standards.
François Hollande is in an
advantageous position, and so it is easy for him to
criticize his predecessor and promise social justice.
It was not coincidental that one of his most high-flown
pre-electoral promises was to introduce a 75% tax on
capital wealth, to provide resources for the
reconstruction of the national economy.
Little can come out of this
initiative and if, in spite of everything, the
president attempts it, it is more than likely that
information will appear confirming his links with
these "wealthiest citizens in the country." He is no
multimillionaire like Strauss-Kahn, but he is not a
And so, political life goes on and
with it the parade of skeletons in the cupboard. (Taken