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The Ins and Outs of French Politics #13

Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries
Bonsoir !
Happy New Year! With only 98 days until the French choose their new leader, I thought an excellent New Year’s resolution would be to start regularly sending in this newsletter again. In this issue: A female conservative candidate could get Macron’s job, French prison inmates are becoming more and more political, and France presides over Europe.
Bonne lecture et bonne année 2022 !

Although most polls are as reliable as the next crystal ball, they do give some idea of trends in voters’ opinions. I will, nevertheless, draw on statistics from the daily Baromètre, by Les Echos (for which I’m a correspondent in The Netherlands), and Opinion-Way. Their latest poll clearly shows that Macron’s greatest competition lies in Valérie Pécresse. She is undeniably on an upward spiral. The conservative candidate has been the President of the Ile-de-France region since 2015 and has her eyes firmly set on the Elysée Palace. If she makes it to the second round, she can probably rely on the country’s catholic voters, an advantage that may help to topple Macron. The weakness of the left, shown by the polls, is also striking. The seven candidates together can count on no more than 26 per cent of the votes. More about the leftist déconfiture in the next issue of this newsletter.
Le baromètre OpinionWay - Kéa Partners pour Les Echos et Radio Classique
Le baromètre OpinionWay - Kéa Partners pour Les Echos et Radio Classique
Not So Happy New Year
😞Another poll this week has revealed that 85 per cent of French people are pessimistic about the upcoming year. But hey, what else is new? In his New Year’s speech on Friday Night, Macron warned the French people that difficult times are still ahead. Indeed, it could have been a message to himself: knowing that this could well be his last quarter as President.
Macron's 2022 New Year's Speech
Macron's 2022 New Year's Speech
French ballot options in 2022 will be pretty limited. The electoral menu du jour could be summarised as conservative, extreme right, or even extremer right. The Guardian calls it “The Great Moving Right Show”. The left is divided, as always. According to the polls, they stand no chance (see above). To date, the main campaign themes have been traditional ‘regal’ topics like defence, security and, notably, immigration. And no candidate has offered any concrete answers to the structural socio-economic problems the country is facing.
Who’s who?
There are now 42 self-declared presidential candidates. Most of them have never been heard of (Anasse Kazib/Yvan Benedetti, anyone?), and most will sink into oblivion after 10th April. At least one name is still missing: a certain Emmanuel Macron. Even though the President’s activities increasingly make it look like he is running, Macron’s media appearances are not yet counted (considered) as official campaign time; much to the annoyance of the other candidates. That does not stop his Justice Minister from campaigning for his boss [paywall]. In the upcoming articles in this Newsletter, I will dive deeper into the leading candidates’ programmes.
Nationalist candidate Eric Zemmour explaing his election programme to a voter
Nationalist candidate Eric Zemmour explaing his election programme to a voter
French prisons are often overcrowded and inhumane. In December, 69.992 people were locked up (+11.1% compared to 2020). There were 60,775 places (+0.2%) available, an occupancy rate of 115%, yet 1592 inmates had to sleep on mattresses on the floor (+143.4%). There are almost twice as many people in prison in France than in The Netherlands or Sweden. But now things are getting even more unpleasant: one (ex-)politician after another is joining the army of lawbreakers—a small anthology from the past few weeks.
Let’s start with the arrest of Alexandre Benalla. Again. Over two days, Macron’s former bodyguard and his wife were interrogated about contracts he allegedly signed with two Russian oligarchs when he worked at the Elysée Palace. In November, Benalla had already been sentenced to three years in prison - one of them under house arrest - for carrying a weapon without a licence and playing policeman in his spare time. 
Another former frequent visitor to the Elysée, Claude Guéant, spent the holidays in the VIP wing of the infamous Santé prison in Paris (which opened in 1867). Sarkozy’s former chief of staff and interior minister received two years (one of which suspended) in 2017 in a corruption scandal. Thanks to loans from friends, Guéant was able to pay his overdue fine of 292,000 euros last week. But for the time being, he remains behind bars. According to his lawyer, Guéant lives it “badly, very badly”.
François Fillon, Sarkozy’s Prime Minister, faces a new financial misconduct inquiry. In June 2020, he received a five-year prison sentence (three years suspended). The Court heard his appeal in November and the judgement is expected on May 9th. But keep your sympathy. Russian petrochemical giant Sibur hired the former French PM as an ‘independent Director’ at the Board. When sending this newsletter, it was not entirely clear whether this was just another of Fillon’s fake jobs.
Fillon’s old chief, Nicolas Sarkozy, received sentences of three years and one year, respectively, in two separate trials in 2021. In both cases, he appealed. A third trial, the so-called Libyan Election Financing, is expected to start later this year.
👏Yes Minister
In Macronland, not everyone is spotless either. In December, Minister for Small Business Alain Griset was sentenced to six months probation and three years’ ineligibility because he had concealed a savings account of €170,000 from the tax authorities. The former taxi driver resigned after his conviction but will appeal. Tomorrow (Tuesday), Griset will have to stand trial for breach of trust. In September, Macron’s former minister Agnes Buzyn was charged for the way she handled the pandemic. She resigned but was awarded the Légion d’Honneur on New Year’s Day. Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti was indicted over alleged abuse of power and influence. He kept his job.
💔#MeToo Moi non plus
For the sake of journalistic balance, some offences on the left: Although the #metoo movement has had less impact in France than in most Western countries (“We’re French, we flirt”), more and more women dare to speak out against sexual abuse. In November, 285 women working in politics and academia called for “perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence” to be removed from political life. A week later, former Minister Nicolas Hulot and former Junior Minister Jean-Vincent Placé (ex-EELV) were accused of sexual harassment. They are not the only misbehaving: Former minister and newspaper tycoon Jean-Michel Baylet allegedly raped a teenage girl. At the same time, MP Benoît Simian (ex-LREM) is suspected of abusing his ex-wife in a heated divorce. He is still an MP.
The former MP Henri Jibrayel used public money to play in a casino. The socialist must have thought, ‘Everything on red’. He goes directly to jail and does not pass go. Last year, he had already been sentenced to ten months house arrest for organising a few sea trips for 1,200 older people hoping to win their votes. That plan fell through. The mayor of Roubaix, Guillaume Delbar, got six months probation for fraud and membership in a criminal organisation. He refuses to resign. The mayor of Toulon, Hubert Falco (ex-LR), secretary of state under Chirac and Sarkozy, was arrested for allegedly consuming lobsters and champagne at the taxpayers’ expense for years. The affair was called “Falco’s Fridge”. “Lies!” according to the glutton himself. The mayor of the southern town of Sanary-sur-Mer received a three-year prison sentence (of which two suspended) for corruption. He will appeal in cassation. A municipal councillor in Grenoble and his wife were given two years imprisonment (one of which suspended) for human trafficking and housing illegal Vietnamese restaurant workers. Then there was a former police officer from the Elysée Palace who was convicted of industrial espionage. He will have to serve three years in one of the country’s dirty dungeons. The filthy conditions in French prisons also resulted in a ruling from the Council of State last week. The state must pay a penalty of one thousand euros for every day the tenants in the Fresnes prison (one of the largest and oldest in Europe) do not receive soap and towels. The state had already been ordered by a court in 2017 to put its hygiene in order, but the fate of prisoners is clearly not a political priority. It’s not just Downing Street that needs to come clean.
A French Ministerial Council Meeting
A French Ministerial Council Meeting
Since Saturday (January 1st), France has been presiding over the European Council, although the country itself is pretending to become the boss of the EU. Macron summed up his programme as relance, puissance et appartenance. Or in English: recovery, power and belonging. The triptych is sufficiently pompous to impress the neighbours, yet vague enough not to be held accountable when the presidency ends in six months from now. In reality, France mainly wants to curb immigration and reform Schengen, topics that fit in with the debates in the presidential election.
Thanks to intense French lobbying, there was already a significant victory on the first day: the European Commission decided that nuclear energy can now be labelled green energy. Germany is not amused, nor is Spain.
Even though the country is suffering from a “tidal wave” of new cases (there were over a million new cases over the last seven days), the Government only introduced a few new measures as of Sunday. In many major cities, wearing the mouth mask outside is mandatory again, even for six and over children. Does it make sense? Probably not. A colleague of mine described the move as “an incantation ritual”. On Sunday, one in 38 Parisians tested positive for Covid-19. Not so surprising. Partly due to the mild weather, the streets and terraces were packed (social distance: 0 centimetres), and there were long queues in front of the pharmacies for a free PCR test. Still, 12,5 million French children went back to school this morning (Monday), despite the infection explosion. In the run-up to the Presidential Election, the Macron government would not dare burden parents with the heavy task of looking after their offspring. Le Monde criticises this attitude.
Parisians queuing for a corona test last Saturday
Parisians queuing for a corona test last Saturday
+++ 🫑🍉It’s a wrap: fruit and vegetables can no longer be sold in plastic +++🇬🇧 Taking back control: British nationals can travel through France again if they have to go to another member state. But for how long? +++ 🚂🥖From tomorrow (Tuesday) you are no longer allowed to eat or drink on a French train. Unless you devour your baguette jambon-fromage quickly +++
👌🏼 MERCI !
Thank you for reading and for the kind reactions you have been sending me recently. Would you please share this newsletter with your colleagues and/or friends who are also interested in French politics? You can find all previous issues here. I welcome your questions and comments at
⚡️NEW: You can now also follow this newsletter on the Telegram Channel French Politics.
🇳🇱🇧🇪 This newsletter is also available in Dutch. Click here.
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Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries @stefandevries

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