Monday, March 3, 2014

The News From France: Corruption and Sperm

My mind has been wandering from French politics lately. Hollande's "normal" presidency is just not much fun. Ukraine is so much more diverting. And on a day when the headlines from France give me a choice between writing about "corruption in the UMP" or "quality of French sperm declining," I suppose duty requires me to write about the former.

The Copé scandal has been raging now for almost a week, and I haven't said a word about it. Why not? Because it's so banal. The gist of the allegation is that Copé overbilled a campaign consulting firm run by a couple of his cronies (and former staffers), with the excess presumably being kicked back to a hidden war chest to finance Copé's expected bid for the presidency in 2017. Are the charges true? Shall we say simply that similar schemes have not been unheard of in French politics past?

Meanwhile, Copé says he'll make a clean breast of everything and publish the full party accounts, ignoring the fact that party accounts are already published. Overbilling wouldn't show up in the accounts, of course, since these would simply reveal that an artificially inflated invoice had been paid in full. The real question isn't whether Copé cheated but who's out to get him--and there, as in an Agatha Christie novel, there are any number of suspects.

The immediate wielder of the long knife is Franz-Olivier Giesbert, the editor of Le Point, who seems to have made a personal vendetta out of toppling Copé. Why? I could swear that Giesbert's last book announced that he was getting out of the political reportage game, but I guess he's postponed his retirement. Giesbert is the Gallic Bob Woodward: he's on the inside with everybody who's anybody. But he writes with a good deal more style and flair than Woodward can even imagine. In the book I mention he had sharpened his knife for Sarkozy in particular, yet one felt that he retained a certain affection for Napoléon le Petit bis (as I do) because he was so much fun to write about. Deposing Copé would clear the way for Sarko to return as head of the UMP, which would be a natural way to slip back into harness and gear up for a presidential run in 2017, and Sarko's intimates say this is a decision he's already made. So it would not altogether floor me to hear that Giesbert is doing Sarko this little service, based on a tip from Sarko himself (and who would know more about how UMP campaigns are financed than the former party leader). In exchange, Giesbert gets all the insider dope he needs to write a book on Sarko's comeback.

Of course there are other answers to the Cui bono? question in regard to a potential Copé downfall. François Fillon, Copé's archenemy in last year's guerre des chefs, is a possible suspect, but somehow I don't think the dour Fillon and the flamboyant Giesbert have many atomes crochus. There are the party's young Turks, the next generation of présidentiables and wannabe présidentiables: NKM, Lemaire, Wauquiez, Baroin, Bertrand, etc. I don't quite see it. Anyway, I prefer the Giesbert-Sarkozy axis theory: a larger-than-life journalist hooks up with a larger-than-life pol to eliminate a pesky interloper whom neither man likes.

Of course Giesbert might have come by his information by another route. Nothing says he had to have been tipped off by an insider or that the insider had to be Sarkozy (whose campaign was in effect robbed by Copé and his buddies if the allegations are true). And everything I've written above may be a fantasy. But as I said at the outset, French politics have been so boring lately that I have to amuse myself somehow. It's either a conspiracy theory or declining sperm quality due to insecticides, and I decided to go with conspiracy.