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France

Fillon's indictment signals a 'moral crisis' for France

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2017-03-15

While the indictment of François Fillon on Tuesday was hardly unexpected, it signals an extraordinary turn of events in the French presidential campaign. Political scientist Philippe Breton has gone so far as to say it’s a "moral crisis" for France.

"I am innocent, my wife has worked with me for years, as is the case for hundreds and hundreds of parliamentarians, in the past and at this moment,” said François Fillon on Wednesday in response to the formal investigation into allegations that his wife and family, who were employed as parliamentary assistants, were paid for work they did not do.

Fillon, who served as prime minister under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, called the timing of the investigation “diabolical", saying it was taking him away from his commitments as a candidate just 40 days before the election.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 Philippe Breton, a professor of politics at the University of Strasbourg, talks about how the investigation will impact Fillon’s attempts to bounce back in the presidential polls.

How will voters respond to François Fillon’s indictment?
Among his core supporters, who comprise about 18 percent of his support base, this isn’t going to change anything. For them, this latest episode only confirms the existence of a conspiracy, that Fillon is being pursued as in a manhunt. They remain convinced that he’s best placed to steer the ship in the face of the storm.

However, François Fillon must make gains in the polls, to increase his position by at least 5 percent. This is a very difficult goal to achieve. It’s like climbing the Himalayas without oxygen because over the next 40 days this indictment is going to drag him down, depriving his campaign of political oxygen.

What strategy could the Les Républicains candidate adopt to regain voter support?

François Fillon is following a strategy which, in my opinion, is the only feasible option: to focus the campaign on policy rather than the candidate. I fear, though, that the French will find it difficult to turn a blind eye. We know all too well that in a presidential campaign the candidate plays a decisive role.

Fillon had promised he would step down as the Les Républicains candidate if he was placed under formal investigation. When a candidate goes back on their word, what impact does it have on their political prospects?

We may wonder whether we’re not at the dawn of a moral crisis. What we’re now seeing in France is that in a presidential campaign we can dissociate politics from ethics and morality.

It’s quite a first…. but it’s not the sort of message the world’s fifth largest economy would want to send to the rest of the world.

The financial affairs of the candidates seem to be dominating this election campaign – Marine Le Pen has been the subject of two graft investigations. How do we turn the focus of the presidential campaign back towards political debate?

I don’t believe it will happen immediately. We’ll have to wait for the big debates where the candidates confront each other about the ideas underpinning their policies and substantive discussions can be had on key issues. It’s the only remaining hope for this campaign.

This is a translation of an interview for France 24 that was originally published in French.

Date created : 2017-03-15

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