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France

Socialists set up watchdog to survey Sarkozy travel costs

Text by Julien PEYRON

Latest update : 2011-12-18

The opposition Socialist Party say President Nicolas Sarkozy may be misusing his official agenda to campaign for re-election, and have launched a monitoring group to survey his travel expenses.

A watchdog group formed by France’s main opposition Socialist Party will begin monitoring the travel expenses of President Nicolas Sarkozy after accusations that the incumbent was abusing his powers to boost his re-election prospects.

With less than five months left before the first round of presidential elections in France, critics say Sarkozy was slyly working campaign stops into his presidential agenda, and effectively channeling public funds to his efforts to secure a second term in office.

ELECTING A FRENCH PRESIDENT

France's president is elected by direct voting for a five-year term.

Presidential elections have historically been organised into two rounds. If no candidate wins more than half of all ballots in the first round, voters must pick between the two top candidates in a run-off.

The first round of the next presidential elections in France will be held in April 22, 2012, with a run-off on May 6 if necessary.

“[Sarkozy] is blurring his dual roles [as president and candidate] and his actions are morally, if not legally, reprehensible,” said Pascal Terrace, a Socialist Party MP and the main force behind the creation of the watchdog.

The French president has yet to make his candidacy official, but he is widely expected to represent the ruling UMP party in the April 22 elections.

“He has no interest in declaring his intention to run as a candidate too early, because if he did he would no longer be able to use the state apparatus to campaign,” Terrace told FRANCE 24.

The Socialist lawmaker said his monitoring “task force” would officially begin working on December 19.

Offering a 'helping' hand

While Terrace and a handful of politicians close to Socialist Party candidate François Hollande planned to survey Sarkozy’s every move, France already boasts an official monitoring group - the National Committee for Campaign Accounts and Political Funding, or CNCCFP.

Terrace said his group was not meant to do the CNCCFP’s job, but to “help” the independent commission scrutinise the president’s campaign expenses and “alert” public opinion of any potential abuses by Sarkozy.

However, Terrace said irregularities already needed to be reported, and pointed specifically to a recent visit by Sarkozy to the Tricastin nuclear reactor site in south-eastern France.

“He brought UMP supporters along and denounced the agreement [on energy policy] between the Socialist Party and the Green Party,” Terrance argued.

“How can Sarkozy claim that he is not campaigning? He is no longer acting in his role as the President of all French citizens,” he added.

Hitting back

The CNCCFP has given some credence to the Socialists’ finger pointing. On December 15 the commission said that a portion of the incumbent’s travel expenses may be counted as part of his campaign fund if Sarkozy began “communicating elements of his future campaign platform.”

Sarkozy’s own UMP party shot back that the CNCCFP would make better use of its powers by examining the Socialist Party’s own pre-campaign expenses.

Franck Riester, an MP from the Seine-et-Marne region near Paris and the UMP’s chief communications officer, called on the CNCCFP last week to examine if the television and radio time given to cover the Socialist Party’s October primaries should be counted as part of the Hollande campaign’s war chest.

Televised debates between candidates during the Socialist Party’s internal primaries earlier this year were watched by millions of viewers in France and, according to analysts, provided Hollande with an early advantage over other presidential hopefuls.

Riester’s challenge was dismissed by the Socialist MP Terrace, who argued his party has been completely transparent about the costs of the primaries. “We have already indicated that some of the expenses related to the primary would be integrated into [Hollande’s] campaign fund,” he said.

Campaign financing promises to remain a hot election issue, even after Sarkozy becomes an official candidate.

Whether illegal kickbacks from defence sales were used to fund former presidential candidate Edouard Balladur’s 1995 campaign are at the centre of an ongoing legal battle in France. The case could personally affect Sarkozy, who was then Balladur’s treasurer and campaign spokesman.

Date created : 2011-12-18

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