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French political system under pressure as Benalla fallout spreads

French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb at a Parliamentary hearing, 23 July 2018
French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb at a Parliamentary hearing, 23 July 2018 Captura de vídeo assembleia nacional tv

France's interior minister Gerard Collomb on Monday defended his handling of a video showing a top security aide to President Emmanuel Macron hitting a protester. The incident took place during the May 1 labor day demonstrations but only went viral weeks later.

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Opposition lawmakers have seized on the affair, with some accusing the government of covering up the alleged violence committed by Alexandre Benalla, a security agent employed by Macron's Republic on the Move (REM) party, along with one of his colleagues.

I would not be surprised to see the popularity of Macron getting down during the summer

Both men were charged Sunday with assault, while Benalla is also charged with impersonating a police officer.

Many parliamentarians who took part in the hearing were clearly not satisfied with the answers given to them by the interior minister. He remained vague on occasion, and shied away from taking full responsibility.

“The fact that the minister in charge of police and internal security of France decides to answer to the questions of parliament is good news,” says Raquel Garrido, a lawyer who worked with left wing politician Jean-Luc Melenchon.

“But given the answers he gave today, there is something very strange going on. The minister in charge claims not to be aware of many points of the scandal starting by the fact that Mr Benalla has worked for the President, Mr Macron.

“It is amazing that a number one policeman in the country didn’t even allegedly know that Mr Benalla worked for the president.

“So the conclusion is that Mr Collomb by trying to not getting involved in the operation led by the Presidency.

Lawmakers last week blocked discussion about a proposal on the reform of the constitution. Isn’t this case blown out of proportion?

Many observers say it is not.

“It tells that the French political system has still a lot of things to improve,” says Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist with Sciences Po.

“The paradox is that the French Parliament was on the way to examine the government proposition on reforming the constitution, making the democracy in France more effective.

“At exactly the same time we have a perfect example of what is going wrong in the French system: too much power for the president and not enough control of the Legislative over the Executive,” he says.

So what will happen now?

“There will be some very significant damage for the president, Emmanuel Macron,” says Cautrès.

“I would not be surprised to see the popularity of Macron going down during the summer.

“There could be some resignations. It could be also that there will be some administrative sanctions inside the Minstry of Interior and Gerard Collomb is going to be in a difficult position.Collomb is going to see his position badly weakened.

“Collomb is very close to Emmanuel Macron, and you cannot be in such a position if you are in a weak position and I think that Gerard Collomb is probably quite damaged,” he says.

There’s never a good time for a scandal, but the timing could be hardly worse.

It’s just a week ago that France won the Football world championships, and Macron had hoped that would boost his own popularity ratings.

But instead the fell to a record 39 percent, and the French football victory seems all but forgotten, and is now completely overshadowed by this potentially very explosive Benalla case.

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