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Law curbing conflicts of interest in French politics is 'urgent'
Plagued by scandals involving officials who mixed private gain and public duty, France has set up a commission to study the issue of conflicts of interest. Transparency Int. says the group’s findings are good, but don’t go far enough.
Several high-profile political scandals, including the one involving former labour minister Eric Woerth (main picture) and l’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, have recently highlighted what the French recognise is one of the most entrenched illnesses of the political establishment: conflict of interests.
This summer French President Nicolas Sarkozy set up a commission to study the thorny issue of conflict of interest in government.
The body, christened the Sauvé Commission after its president Jean-Marc Sauvé, delivered on Tuesday an unsurprising indictment of France’s deficiency when it comes to monitoring the incompatible public and private interests of its officials. The commission also offered eight recommendations for fighting the rampant problem.
France24.com asked Daniel Lebegue, president of the non-governmental organization Transparency France, whether the commission’s suggestions can help France stamp out conflict of interests.
FRANCE 24: Will the Sauvé commission’s suggestions help France address the problem of conflicting interests?
Daniel Lebegue: We have hailed the commission’s work and agree with 90 percent of their suggestions. The commission approached Transparency France in November and we offered them our own findings and suggestions based on our own one-year study. The essential idea was kept by the commission: that is to create a law that defines the instances of conflict of interest, forces officials to disclose their interests before taking office and allows for sanctions if the rule is broken.
The major fault of the commission is that it does not include parliamentarians and senators in its recommendations. [In its original mandate the commission was told to refrain from considering elected lawmakers, who are supposed to set their own rules]. Transparecy France calls on the recommendations set forth by the commission to be applied to all elected officials alike.
F24: The commission’s president confessed that France is lagging behind other countries on this issue. How does France compare with other countries, and who are the models to emulate?
DL: What characterizes France is the complete absence of laws and almost no juridical procedure to deal with ethical practices. Yes, we can definitely say we lag behind other countries in this issue.
Canada is the country that has gone the furthest in monitoring and controlling potential conflicts of interest. Since the passing of a law in 2006 they have even created an ethics commissioner whose only job is to monitor all public officials and their potential conflicting interests.
Sweden, Norway and Finland have tended to concentrate on codes of conduct, and have appointed monitors in many public institutions. Recently the UK has strengthened its regulations and is more carefully observing MP’s travel expenses, their relationships with lobbyists and forcing them to reveal their incomes and assets.
F24: Is there a cultural problem in France that will make it difficult to apply a law, even if one is approved?
DL: There is a long history that France has to deal with, yes, but we must make that culture evolve to meet the demands of citizens. People want transparency and integrity, and think these things are necessary for a properly functioning democracy. A real crisis of confidence exists today in France between ordinary citizens and the government. It is urgent and indispensable that France adopt the suggestions offered by the commission.