French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon has decided to fight back against the fake job scandal concerning his wife and children that threatens his campaign. Fillon has stated that he plans to tell the truth to the French people. Fillon has come under pressure to quit the race since a newspaper, Le Canard Enchaine, published a report alleging that his wife Penelope was paid € 800,000 in state money for work she may never have done.
Prosecutors are investigating whether there was a link between a Legion of Honour medal awarded to a wealthy businessman friend of Fillon and a sum of money that businessman paid to Penelope. Opinion polls show the 62 year-old former prime minister has lost his status as the favorite to win the presidency to independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, and that far-right leader Marine Le Pen has also gained ground. With his campaign in turmoil, some senior members of Fillon’s own Republican party have told him to stand aside for someone else in time to build a campaign for a vote that is now just 11 weeks away. But Fillon said at the weekend he would fight to the end to defend his position as the party’s nominee.
Alain Juppe, another former prime minister seen as a potential stand-in for Fillon, ruled out a comeback. “No is no,” Juppe said in a tweet. Fillon’s camp distributed 3 million leaflets entitled “Stop the Manhunt”, painting the scandal as a left-wing conspiracy and declaring: “Enough is enough”. A champion of free-market policies to reinvigorate France’s heavily regulated economy, Fillon has seen his campaign unravel since Le Canard Enchaine reported his wife Penelope had been paid as a parliamentary assistant for work she had not really done. Seen two weeks ago as the comfortable favorite to win the keys to the Elysee palace, opinion polls now show Fillon failing to reach the May 7 runoff vote.
It has been a humiliating reversal of fortune for Fillon, a devout Catholic and father of five children, who had campaigned on the basis that he is a rare honest politician. The accusations also sit uncomfortably with his economic plans for setting France back on to its feet including slashing public spending and sacking half a million public servants. Since the scandal broke, he and his wife have been interviewed by the fraud police, his office in parliament has been searched, and the inquiry has been extended to two of his adult children he also paid for stints of work at the Senate. If he were forced to quit as the center-right’s nominee, it would be unprecedented in six decades of French politics.
French newspaper reports say Fillon told investigators that his daughter had helped him research a book he wrote and that his son had been paid while helping with the 2007 campaign of former president Nicolas Sarkozy. It also said investigators were probing the award of France’s highest decoration, the Legion of Honour, to magnate Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere in 2010 while Fillon was prime minister. Papers quoted Fillon’s lawyer as saying there was no link between the medal award and payments the magnate made to Penelope Fillon in 2012 and 2013. The stakes are high for France’s Right, which had looked likely to return to power after five years of Socialist rule under President Francois Hollande. Polls now show Fillon coming third in the April 23 first round, with first and second placed Le Pen and Macron going through to a run-off vote on May 7 – which the surveys show Macron would comfortably win.
Former investment banker Macron was economy minister in Holland’s government from 2014 until last year, but the 39 year-old has no established party apparatus, has never been elected, and held no government office before that. Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front presents an even more uncertain prospect for western governments and investors worried about a further destabilization of the world order after the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in the United States. Both campaigned on Sunday in the city of Lyon. Le Pen, 48, told thousands of flag-waving supporters that she alone would protect them against Islamic fundamentalism and globalization if elected president. Macron focused his attacks on the woman who is now his main rival – calling her policies a betrayal of French values of liberty, fraternity and equality.
If Mr Fillon quits as the Republicans candidate, the party will be forced to choose a replacement. There is probably not enough time to organize a new primary election so the party is likely choose one of the candidates beaten by Mr Fillon last time. Philippe Marliere, professor of French and European politics at UCL, said: “They would need to field another candidate but the trouble is that of the two next candidates in line, [Alain Juppé] is not too keen to go as a substitute and [Nicolas Sarkozy] also has strong corruption claims against him.” Mr Juppé, who came second in the Republicans primary race, has insisted that he has not desire to replace Mr Fillon.
Mr Sarkozy, who served as President from 2007 until 2012, looks set to stand trial after being accused of illegal campaign financing. He denies claims that he was complicit in allowing around €18 million of unauthorized funds to be spent on his unsuccessful 2012 election campaign. Other than Mr Juppé and Mr Sarkozy, there are no obvious candidates to replace Mr Fillon. Professor Marliere told Sky News: “All of the other candidates are very second, third and fourth rank – they’re not household names. The party would be in big trouble.” Whether or not Mr Fillon drops out of the race, the final round of voting now looks likely to be a battle between Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron, which Dr McCabe says would “bring France into untested territory”. “France is looking for some certainty, and what they really need is someone like Fillon who has that sense of stability,” Dr McCabe added. “Macron is in his late 30s and standing for a party founded last April, so is relatively young and inexperienced. “But to be fair to Macron, his party is about trying to unite left and right.” Dr McCabe said that a win for Marine Le Pen “would be the equivalent of the Donald Trump victory” which could have ramifications for the rest of Europe.
He explained: “If France goes right-wing, the same thing could easily happen in Austria and Germany, which could have consequences in terms of the rapid break-up of Europe and the EU.”