The Brief: EU cash scandal could strengthen Le Pen

Populist is an over-used and abused word in Brussels. Too often, it just means “someone I disagree with”.

MEPs are particularly guilty of such lazy mudslinging, which stifles serious debate and contributes to the sense of a dismissive, political elite divorced from the people.

Understanding what populism really means can bring insight. For example, it sheds light on the differing fortunes of French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and François Fillon.

Both Le Pen and Fillon are under legal scrutiny. French prosecutors are probing Fillon over the employment of his wife and children as parliamentary aides.

Le Pen has refused to be interviewed by police over the investigation into her alleged fraudulent use of European Parliament funds for work in France.

While Fillon’s campaign has foundered, with independent Emmanuel Macron opening up his biggest lead yet over the Republican candidate, Le Pen still stands a chance of becoming French president.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines populism as a political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite.

Fillon, who took a leaf out of the Trump playbook by accusing journalists of trying to carry out a “lynching” or “assassination” with their coverage into an inquiry, is a member of the privileged elite.

Le Pen, however, can rely on a long history of the National Front claiming to be persecuted outsiders. She has already accused the investigation of being motivated politically, potentially strengthening her anti-establishment credentials.

A true populist must be an outsider. Any criticism coming from the establishment or fictional “special interests” can be easily deflected and burnish the candidate in the eyes of the electorate.

While Hillary Clinton’s campaign was derailed by the scandal over her emails, Donald Trump shrugged off accusations of Russian backing, and a whole litany of other outrages that would end any “normal” candidate’s hopes.

Le Pen will look to profit from the same kind of scandal that has weakened Fillon, and strengthened Macron.


EURACTIV France reports that the 1,000-strong cyber-warfare division of Russia’s defence ministry is targeting the French elections. Sounds familiar…

Jean-Claude Juncker has called an extraordinary meeting of his Commissioners tomorrow evening. They will discuss the white paper on the future of Europe, as well as on migration and security. The executive has promised the white paper will be presented before the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.

EU energy ministers were in Brussels today and discussed the bloc’s plans for Energy Union and the clean energy package. Check EURACTIV later for more details.

Plans to pull the plug on MEPs indulging in hate speech in the European Parliament have raised censorship fears.

Rejection of EU citizens seeking UK residency has hit 28%. Theresa May plans to announce the end of free movement for EU migrants next month. The Brief discussed this thorny issue last week and the Commission said it would not comment until Article 50 was triggered.

The London Stock Exchange has blamed the EU for the collapse of its merger with Deutsche Börse. The Commission refused to comment. Brexit poses a threat to both Britain’s speciality cheeses and to UK farmers but the Lords could yet delay Article 50 legislation.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan today said that trade deals with Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland were a boon to European agriculture. Trade Commissioner Malmström addressed a conference on the EU plans to set up a multilateral investment court, the Commission’s bid to quell fears over controversial ISDS clauses in trade deals.

Jorge Valero sets the scene as the World Mobile Congress opens in Barcelona. The Commission will urge the private sector to pull its weight in the development of 5G networks.

Thousands of Romanians formed an EU flag during a protest against the government’s moves to weaken a corruption crackdown.

Hungary has started building a second fence along its southern border with Serbia.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister told our partner Der Tagesspiegel that Poland would not be allowed to join the EU if it was applying for membership today. He warned that messing up the Brexit negotiations would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Ukraine is the only country implementing the EU’s nuclear diversification policy, according to Westinghouse Electric Company, a US multinational.

NGOs are warning that developing countries are using public-private partnerships to hide the true costs of projects, and have written to the World Bank about the use of off-balance sheet accounting.

The European Court of Justice has been asked to rule if the card game bridge is actually a sport.


EU environment ministers will look to clinch a deal on the reform of the bloc’s carbon market at their Brussels meeting tomorrow. NGO Transport and Environment said that the low carbon price means ministers would only have to pay €10.41 to offset their emissions travelling to Brussels. T&E said the true cost is closer to €133.04. Climate Action Network has written to the ministers, urging them to make sure the Emissions Trading System does not remain swamped with the free allowances that have stalled the low-carbon transition.

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