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French press review 3 February 2017

There's plenty of variety on the French front pages - but "Penelopegate" is still the hottest story.


For those who missed it, "Penelopegate" refers to an investigation into payments made by François Fillon, the centre right candidate for President, allegedly made to his Welsh wife Penelope for work as his Parliamentary assistant she is said not to have done.

The payments, reportedly in the region of 800,000 euros, were from public funds, that is to say taxpayers' money.

There's also the issue of payments made to her by a billionaire chum of Fillon's for seemingly very little work for a literary magazine.

And, to add fuel to the flame,- it's been reported that payments were made also to two of his children for legal advice, before they qualified as lawyers.

Fillon, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing, said the accusations were intended "to destroy" him and the right.

The editorial in centrist paper le Monde tells us "And now, the right fears defeat."

The paper detects mounting unease within the ranks of Fillon's party, the Republicans.

It tells us that Fillon assembled Republican parliamentarians on Wednesday and asked for "solidarity".

Nonetheless, says le Monde, elements of the Right doubt he'll be able to continue.

A few have said as much.

One observed that the sums involved have shocked many French people.

Another that the result of the primary, the vote that picked Fillion to contest the Presidential election, is nullified.

A third, a supporter of the runner up, Bordeaux Major Alain Juppé, called on his mentor to take over as the candidate.


Right-wing le Figaro draws much the same conclusions.

"Fillon continues - the right worries," is its front page lede.

In le Figaro's view, "the former Prime Minister has still not managed to dispel doubts about his ability to lead the Presidential campaign."

It cites the latest revelation, an interview Madame Fillon gave in May 2007 to the British the Daily Telegraph, in which she declared: "I have never been my husband's assistant."

"A new blow for François Fillon," le Figaro concludes.

In a connected story, the paper reports that, with just 80 days to go until the Presidential vote, thoughtful heads in the Republican party are increasingly pondering what it calls "Plan-B", that's to say an alternative candidate.

The paper also publishes the latest opinion poll, which asked "which political personality do you want to see playing a leading role in the months and years to come?"

The results make grim reading for the Right. Top of the heap with 38% is Emmanuel Macron, a former Minister in the Socialist government who is running for President as an independent.

Interestingly, Macron, a former investment banker, has never been elected to public office.

François Fillon trails in 5th place with 27%.

This is the man seen by many as the almost certain winner before "Penelopegate" upset the applecart.


The editorial in left leaning Libération begins tongue in cheek saying "So, we should thank Donald Trump." Then it turns deadly serious.

"The campaign that led to his election to the White House and his hallucinating first weeks of exercising power have blatantly shown the difficulty for newspapers to do their job faced with so-called "fake news" "and "alternative facts," the paper says.

Still, says Libé, the situation has generated reassuring reactions; a mobilisation of the main American media to win the battle of information and a significant increase in newspaper subscriptions.

"We should therefore thank François Fillon. It (by which they mean "Penelopegate" of course) is the very example that the press can do its job properly in France," the paper say. "To point out the inconsistencies and lies of those who praise an ethic that they do not apply."

This a barbed reference to Fillon's declared intention, if elected, to cut costs, fire thousands of government employees and save taxpayers' money.

Lest we forget, Fillon has yet not been found guilty of any wrong-doing. But the press has raised questions that must be answered.


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