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Time to increase election spending to stop corruption

Even the most pernickety scrutiniser of French politics would be hard pressed to get excited about the latest corruption scandal swirling around Emmanuel Macron.

In early June, an evidence bundle was handed to Paris prosecutors alleging that the President’s election accounts were less than regular.

It was claimed that En Marche! (On the Move!) – the liberal, centrist movement that propelled Mr Macron to power – broke electoral campaigning spending rules.

More specifically, 75% reductions were obtained on the hire of venues, and there were similar discounts from service providers who helped EM! get their candidate into the Elysée Palace in May last year. 

Two theatres used for rallies were owned by a friend of Mr Macron too, suggesting favouritism, so compounding the “offence” of trying to save money.

The statutory deduction limit is 20 per cent, so there is a prima facie case to be heard. An endless legal process is inevitable thanks to the complaint by the Republican Front for Intervention against Corruption (or FRICC, a play on fric, French slang for money).

If this action against Macron goes the distance, then it will be 2022 at the earliest that he can be summoned to court, because that is when he could lose his presidential immunity from prosecution.

More likely it will be 2027, when – as is currently a good bet – Macron becomes the first head of state since Jacques Chirac to complete two terms.

In this respect, Macron’s placement in judicial limbo means he is going through an experience familiar to pretty much every single politician who runs for high office in France.

It is a damning indictment of modern France that an obsession with trivial irregularities means that serious malpractice often goes unchecked or – at best – is left to fester within the scandalously slow legal system. 

When measly punishments are eventually handed down by judges, everybody has lost interest.

Stringent spending levels, along with other strict election laws, are from another age, ensuring that almost everyone becomes a suspected criminal before long, whatever their motivations. Financial limits need to be raised as soon as possible.

As it stands, no individual is allowed to donate more than €4,600 to a campaign, for example, and only sums up to €150 can be in cash. This is based on the justified expectation that multi-millionaires will back their candidates with huge amounts and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that they still do – often with large payments of unregulated liquide in brown envelopes.

Such claims are being made in the case against one-term conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is fighting charges that he accepted around €50m in cash from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

This is almost three times the €16.8m threshold allowed in the first round of voting in a presidential election, and well over twice the €22.5m permitted in the second round.

The Paris home Sarkozy shares with his third wife, the former supermodel and pop singer Carla Bruni, was raided by the fraud squad within days of him losing his own immunity from prosecution a full six years ago. Yet, astonishingly, he still remains free to do what he likes, including standing for president.

This is exactly what Sarkozy’s former prime minister, François Fillon, did while charged with corruption, along with his British-born wife Penelope. The couple are accused of setting up fake jobs so as to siphon off money from the public purse. Like Sarkozy, they deny all the allegations aimed at them.

Chirac, another Gaullist and one-time mentor to both Sarkozy and Fillon, was 79-years-old before a Paris court finally convicted him of corruption in 2011. By this time, he was long retired.

Macron was largely elected as an antidote to the excesses of France’s rotten political establishment, so any kind of enquiry will dent his so-far spotless reputation.

He too refutes doing anything wrong and – like so many others in the country – is as keen for the spending rules to be clarified, and indeed reformed.

For the sake of democracy in France, such a move cannot come soon enough.

Nabila Ramdani is an award-winning French-Algerian journalist who specialises in French politics and the Arab world. Her articles feature in the French national press as well as internationally. She is a regular columnist in The Connexion

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