François Hollande, who has so far avoided commenting on France’s presidential campaign, broke his silence on Wednesday (1 March) to condemn Republican candidate François Fillon’s attacks on the police and judiciary. EURACTIV France reports.
In an uncharacteristic intervention on Wednesday, President Hollande said that a “presidential candidacy does not allow someone to throw suspicion on the work of judges and the police, to create a climate of defiance incompatible with the spirit of responsibility and, worse still, to launch extremely serious accusations against the judiciary and, more broadly, our institutions”.
The president is the guarantor of the independence of the French justice system. But declarations made by Fillon after his wife Penelope was placed under examination for alleged fictitious employment called this independence into question. He feels he has been the victim of bias and called for a legal truce during campaigning.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen, embroiled in her own fictitious employment scandal involving assistants at the European Parliament, made a similar request last week.
But a truce is legally impossible: as Emmanuel Macron pointed out, any such decision would lead to the suspension of the judicial system, which would be the end of equality before the law in France.
Fillon’s insistence on continuing his campaign despite this latest turn of events led to yet more defections from the Republican camp. Bruno Le Maire, who was in charge of European affairs for the campaign, announced his resignation on Wednesday. Others, including MP Franck Riester, followed suit.
After initially promising to quit the presidential race if he was placed under investigation, the candidate made a U-turn in mid-February, saying instead that he preferred French voters to decide his fate.
The centrist liberals are split over the issue. Some have already thrown their weight behind former economy minister Macron’s campaign, while others will decide whether or not to support Fillon.
“This is a candidate who incriminates the magistrates by claiming they have a political agenda when they are simply doing their jobs. This is a candidate who refuses to answer a judicial police summons, as if [his wife] was above the law,” said Richard Ferrand, the secretary-general of Macron’s En Marche party.
Fillon’s candidacy risks being further weakened by this episode, which has alienated the right more than ever from its voters.