‘L’affaire Cahuzac;’ PR disaster for the French left

cahuzac

Image: The bitter irony of JC speaking at an event against tax fraud before his confession.

Possibly one of the biggest scandals in recent years has just rocked French politics, and at an already difficult time for François Hollande, the French president. Jérôme Cahuzac, the former Budget Minister (he resigned on March 19 of this year) has admitted to four months of lies and deceit concerning an offshore bank account in Geneva with UBS. A main proponent of Hollande’s economic policy, which has made chasing down of tax evaders and raising taxes on the privileged top per cent of the population; both individuals and businesses one of its top priorities, Cahuzac finally revealed that he had been hiding 600,000 euros from tax for twenty years. Unfortunately for the left, trying at all costs to avoid being painted as Champagne Socialists after the Strauss-Kahn affair, it doesn’t get more bitterly ironic than the tax man, former head of the Finance Commission, and the official face of equal taxes, turning out to be the ultimate tax fraudster.

Nothing could be more humiliating for Hollande, who, criticized as ineffectual and out of touch with the French people, and already lower than Sarkozy in some opinion polls, had repeatedly tried to paint his government as free from the corruption that dogged the presidencies of Chirac and Sarkozy. Libération reports that the left are bemoaning the demise of their ‘République Exemplaire,’ Hollande’s intellectualized vision of a government that complies with the ideals of the 5th Republic as created by Général De Gaulle after the Second World War.
A government where the President is the Arbitrator, above the populist melee, and who ultimately wields the power of the Executive. Yet with this explosive scandal, Hollande appears to be exactly the opposite; an incompetent and powerless figure. Either he knew Cahuzac was lying (first reports in Le Monde yesterday suggested Hollande suspected as early as December that Cahuzac was capable of lying to him) and believed that the scandal could be kept hidden, or he comes across as a naïve and isolated figure, some-one who can be lied to and hushed up without difficulty.
Even more so as Fabrice Arfi, journalist at Mediapart, the organization that originally broke the story, suggested today that the supposed acquittal of Cahuzac back in January when the French government (notably Pierre Moscovici, the Economics Minister) asked UBS for details on Cahuzac’s finances, was redundant. He implies that the questions asked of UBS by the French finance commission (which Cahuzac was formerly at the head of) weren’t formulated correctly. So there are clear hints that the accusation of either blissful ignorance or a simple desire to cover up the scandal extend not only to Hollande but to his ministers as well, inculpating by proxy all of the French left.

The left are desperate to hold onto an already weak ideal of a government as irreproachable from moral fault. Yet instead they appear weak and caught off guard. Collectively the French press denounce a failure of democracy and a betrayal of the trust of the French electorate. Le Monde is clearly worried about the image this is giving of France abroad, publishing a summary of European press reaction; including reactions from Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK. All evoke the damage this has made to Hollande’s image. How far will these reports of incompetence influence the ability Hollande has to hold onto power and his reputation of a leader in European political circles?

The rhetoric in this affair is interesting. In the UK, no such image of an idealized government, a collective representative of all people, exists that could be compared to that which Hollande promised when he came into power. Cahuzac himself apologized to French men and women as a collective in the article on his blog confessing all. Recently Sarkozy suggested he may have to return to politics for the benefit of France, and all the French. ‘A crime against the state,’ ‘an unpardonable moral fault,’ ‘no room for lies in democracy,’ these are all some of the outraged cries from the Socialist party. ‘We are all, as French, victims,’ is the implication. Would it be possible to imagine this occurring in Britain? Could you imagine David Cameron or Nick Clegg employing such soaring rhetoric to diminish a political shock-wave? My instinct is that any politician doing so in the UK would be shamelessly mocked, and that the public would be affronted that he or she had dared to speak on their behalf.

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