The Brief: Could Madame Fillon be Monsieur Fillon’s Achilles heel?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.


Is it possible to imagine General de Gaulle being put under investigation?” asked the French right-wing presidential candidate François Fillon a few months ago, ahead of his victory in the primary election of Les Republicains.

The answer is–obviously–no. And the question was clearly aimed at the two other main candidates who were then running for the nomination: former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has had numerous run-ins with the justice ministry, and Alain Juppé, who was ineligible to seek office for one year due to his role in creating fictitious “jobs” in the Paris City Hall scandal.

But this gentle knockabout ended brutally on Wednesday when French satirical weekly Canard Enchainé revealed that the frontrunner had contracted his wife, Penelope Fillon, as his parliamentary assistant for the past eight years – without mentioning it in his declaration of interest.

As The Brief went to press, the Paris public prosecutor was opening an investigation

There is nothing illegal about this per se, as French law allows MPs to hire family members and transparency rules only started demanding public declarations of interest in 2014 (Penelope’s role ended in 2012). But under French law, a real job must be done. And, apparently, Penelope wasn’t a workaholic.

According to Fillon’s team, that’s because she was always a very “discreet” and tireless worker. So discreet that nobody has ever seen her in the corridors of the French Assemblée Nationale.

For Fillon, Penelope-gate is merely proof of misogyny. “Because she’s my wife, she shouldn’t have the right to work?” he asked. Actually, yes, she should – but perhaps she should have worked more.

But Fillon’s wife is obviously not the only one to hold such a contract. Among the candidates for the right, Bruno Le Maire was already in trouble in 2013 for paying his wife for the same (phony?) job. As did former conservative leader Jean-François Copé.

In fact, the only person who seems to sympathise with Fillon’s position is Marine Le Pen…who had a very similar problem in the European Parliament, where her National Front hired suspected phantom assistants. An investigation is underway – but, according to Le Pen, this is just another attack on her presidential campaign.


French NGOs asked Fillon and other presidential candidates to speak up about development policy.

Some EU countries aren’t ready to give up control at their Schengen borders, and the European Commission has recommended they can keep them for another three months. The Commission announced today that it will increase aid money and step up work with Libya to reduce migration to the EU. EU budget reform could put more money into border control.

Bulgaria and Romania are making slow but steady progress against corruption and on judiciary reform, the Commission has said.

Seventeen EU countries are flawed democracies, and so is the United States, according to The Economist. The Netherlands wants to set up a fund to offset Donald Trump’s planned cuts to abortion clinics. Bulgaria still needs a new prime minister—a snap election will be held on 26 March. 

Austrian Transport Minister Jörg Leichtfried let off steam today in the European Parliament over Germany’s planned road toll, which will charge foreign drivers a higher fee than Germans. The European Commission approved the law in December after a drawn-out struggle with Germany’s transport chief. Austrian, Belgian and Dutch officials are meeting this afternoon in Brussels to come up with a response. Leichtfried said they could even bring Germany before the European Court of Justice. 

The Commission is planning a May reform of social welfare rules for truck drivers who travel between EU countries.

An executive board member of the European Central Bank broke ranks with other officials and suggested the bank could leave its stimulus programme.

Cecilia Malmström had tough words for Donald Trump yesterday, but she had to face some criticism herself when a Nigerian diplomat called her out over problems in EU trade deals with developing countries.


Eurozone finance ministers meet tomorrow to discuss Greece’s bailout.

Views are the author’s

Subscribe to our newsletters