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French press review 17 February 2017

A new fictive employment scandal gathers head in the ranks of French presidential contenders. This time, the spotlight falls on far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Yesterday, François Fillon had lunch with former president Nicolas Sarkozy, still a force in right-wing circles. Can Sarko help Fillon? Can anybody?


Have you heard the one about the French presidential candidate suspected of using public money to pay her own employees? OK, the "her" is a bit of a giveaway. This time, we're not talking about François Fillon, but about his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen.

She is now suspected by the anti-fraud bureau in Brussels of misusing a total of 340,000 euros of European money to pay two people working for her National Front party. The file has been passed on to the French police.

Among the accusations against Le Pen, according to Le Monde, is the wonderful possibility that she provided "a false employment contract for a fictitious job". Not even  Fillon went that far! In his case, whatever about the jobs, at least the contracts were real.

Marine Le Pen is already having her European parliamentary salary and allowances docked because of this case. She now risks criminal charges, including conflict of interest and fictitious employment, here in France.

But Le Monde still gives her the top of the front page, saying she's stronger than ever and leading the first-round field by a metaphorical mile (1.6 kilometres).

Le Pen has already admitted the facts

Le Figaro says Le Pen has confessed all: despite public denials, the far-right leader admits that she fictictiously employed her personal bodyguard as a European parliamentary assistant; she gave Brussels a false job contract for another supposed assistant, Catherine Griset, who was actually being paid by the EU to work for the National Front in France.

This, suggests the right-wing daily, explains why Le Pen and her National Front have remained so deafeningly silent of the question of Fillon's various embarrassments.

Crimes against humanity, barbarous enterprises

They do have something else in common, M Fillon and Mme Le Pen - neither of them can stand the centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Macron was in the Algerian capital earlier this week, and he described colonisation as "a crime against humanity, a barbaric enterprise".

Fillon was first up, denouncing "a detestation of our history" involving a perpetual repentance. He has already put his opinion on record that "France has no need to feel guilt for its efforts to share French culture with the people of Africa." Fillon was followed by the National Front leader who said it was Macron who was committing the crime and the victim was his own nation.

Fillon calls in Sarkozy in desperate effort to save campaign

Fillon yesterday needed a long spoon. He was having lunch with his old enemy Nicolas Sarkozy, the Godfather of the right, according to Le Monde's description of the former president, beaten out of sight in the right-wing primary election, but still an influential force in the Republicans family.

What did they talk about over the spaghetti and Valpolicella?

Not a whisper has emerged. "Bada bing, badaboom!" as Sonny Corleone might have said. But yesterday afternoon, Franky the Dude Fillon told a campaign meeting that he will reduce the age of legal responsibility to 16 if he's elected, something that he has never mentioned before but which was one of Sarko's security proposals in the primary race.

If the right-wing contender went to ask for help, says former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, you can be sure the Godfather asked for something in return. And not just one thing.

"Don't leave no tomato sauce on those plates, Franky, you know what I'm saying, and then there's the car and my shoes to polish . . . Kapish?" Badaboom, bada bing! So Fillon, who had hoped to use his primary victory to crush Don Nicolito to insignificance, once again finds himself kneeling before il capo dei capi (the boss of all bosses) begging for help.

A risky, not to say uncomfortable, position. If Fillon does win the presidency, he'll certainly have earned it.

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