Not even two months after the election of new French president Emmanuel Macron, the executive in the République
is hit by its first scandal: Macron's allies from the Mouvement démocrate
(Democratic Movement) are involved in a political uproar regarding party finances. The party is accused of "fraudulent employment," meaning that it hired people as parliamentary assistants in the European Parliament who did not do any actual work.
Even though the Democratic Movement isn't Macron's own party, the story hits right where it hurts. Macron has unified forces with this centrist party and its leader, François Bayrou, in order to widen his majority and address one particular issue: "the moralisation of modern politics." Appointed Minister of Justice by Macron, Bayrou was supposed to implement legislation that would counter instances of fraud and corruption in the ranks of legislative and executive officials. Seeing the exact person who was supposed to embody the elevation of French politics to higher standard now accused of fraudulent use of hundreds of thousands of euros of public money, will be devastating for the new president and his reputation.
Placing the cherry on top of the scandal, Bayrou called the radio station France Inter in order to complain about journalists ringing up his party staff. When questioned if he believes that this was an appropriate conduct for a Minister of Justice, Bayrou claimed he "called as a private person," earning him mockery in the press.
However, Macron's problems don't stop there. He also faces turmoil in his own party. His Minister for Cohesion of Geographical Areas, Richard Ferrand, has been accused of several instances of fraud as well. He allegedly enriched his ex-wife and current partner when he was working for large health-insurance providers. Furthermore, Ferrand had not declared several parliamentary assistant jobs, including that of his own son. Ferrand is a former loyal of François Hollande: Macron’s "change" is nothing but the recycling of failed politicians.
The conclusion of Macron's first weeks look terrible: multiple ministers have resigned, including Bayrou and Ferrand, reinforcing the public perception that the allegations against them must be true. With election participation rates already at a record low, French voters are only more likely to lose confidence in the process.
Before the second round of the parliamentary election, the new president expressed his fear of "ending up with too many [members of parliament]," leading French commentators to mock his political party for its inexperienced candidates, many having never held elected office in their lives.
Macron himself had foreseen becoming a victim of his own success. He just did not think it would come so quickly.
Macron even went a step further: he made a prominent member of the French Republican Party, Edouard Philippe, his prime minister, and hired another one as minister of the economy. Macron also struck deals with Republicans in their constituencies, who then vowed their support for the new president. As a result, the French Right has now split. A group of 25 (so far) members of parliament split away from their party to form a group of "constructive" moderates, basically a pro-Macron group, distinct from the remaining fiscal conservatives.
The new president has annihilated his political opposition in both the presidential and the parliamentary election, but at what cost? His mandate is immense, and with that the margin for the pretentious politics of "I won, therefore I rule." Macron’s "moralisation of politics" has backfired spectacularly. The people he appointed to the cabinet with the intention of make the same rules for politicians than for ordinary citizens, are the ones stepping down for alleged fraud.
Macron has a large enough mandate that this scandal will leave him unharmed for now, as decisive election are still far away. It is, however, this large mandate that might embolden more of his allies to go rogue. Compare this to a football team: the team that wins by a small margin remains ambitious and self-conscious of the risk of losing, while the team that wins by a large margin becomes careless and arrogant.
Unlike the United Kingdom, where the ruling Conservative Party holds onto power with a thin majority where a change of mind of a few parliamentarians could swing the balance for the entire government, Macron can afford the current scandals.
And if you can afford them, you might just get more of them.
Bill Wirtz is a political commentator currently based in France. Originally from Luxembourg, he writes columns about politics in Germany, France, and the U.K., as well as about policy emerging from the European Union. His articles have been published by Newsweek, The American Conservative, the Washington Examiner, and the Mises Institute. He is a Young Voices Advocate, a regular contributor for Rare Media and the Foundation for Economic Education, and works as a Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.