Constitutional Court Decision Could Wipe Out France’s Main Opposition Party
Written by Hilary Barnes
The French political scene was thrown into confusion by a decision on July 4 by the Constitution Court to reject the presidential election accounts submitted by former President Nicolas Sarkozy following last year’s election.
This could put an end to any plans Sarkozy may have to resume his political career, and it could also wipe France’s biggest political party, the UMP (Union pour un movement populaire) from the political map.
The court ruled that Sarkozy exceeded the campaign expenditure limit of €22.5m by €466,118 or by 2.1 %.
Sarkozy, who as a former president of the republic is automatically a member of the Constitutional Court for life along with two other former presidents, said he is resigning from the court, a step as unprecedented as the court’s ruling itself (and perhaps technically impossible).
The ruling means that the UMP forgoes €11m in election campaign expenses that would otherwise have been reimbursed from public funds.
The UMP is already heavily in debt. The new blow takes the debt to about €46m, enough potentially to push the party into liquidation and thus removing from the map the political organisation that should be preparing to fight for an alternative to President Francois Hollande and his socialists in coming elections – local and European Parliament elections in 2014 and the presidential and National Assembly elections in 2017.
Sarkozy in a July 4 statement called on all those who are committed to pluralism in politics, and not just supporters to the UMP, to come to the party’s aid.
A new principle has been established by imposing a penalty of 100 % for an infringement of 2.1 %, Sarkozy said.
The party’s current president, Jean-Francois Copé, who has his eye on the presidency in 2017 himself, has declared a national subscription to raise funds to save the party.
Sarkozy’s election accounts were originally rejected by the National Commission for Campaign Accounts (Commission nationale des comptes de campagne – CNCC) in December last year. On appeal by Sarkozy, the Constitutional Court endorsed the CNCC ruling.
The accounts were rejected on two grounds : 1) that some expenses attributed to the UMP should have been attributed to the candidate’s accounts and 2) that some expenses incurred prior to Sarkozy’s formal declaration as candidate should have been included in his accounts.
The rulings on both these counts are a matter of interpretation, as a professor of constitutional law at the the University of Lyons 3, Philippe Blachèr, explained at Atlantico.fr, an online political commentary site.
And on the second count, the ruling is unprecedented and makes new law. In future an incumbent president will have to be careful for an undefined period before an election not to confuse the normal expenses of the presidency’s activities with electioneering.
France is a country which loves to find a conspiracy behind every important political decision, and this is another poisonous example.
To Sarkozy’s supporters, it is just another manœuvre in a concerted campaign, orchestrated, some say, from the Presidential Palace by President Holland’s staff, to smear Sarkozy so indelibly that his political career will be destroyed one and for all.
His name is already connected with investigations into suspected illegal funding of a 1990s election campaign in which Sarkozy was campaign spokesman for Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, allegations by a former aide to Libya’s President Gadaffi that Libya provided Sarkozy with no less than €50m for his political expenses, and another allegation that he may have received illegal funding from Lilian Bettencourt, born 1922, the heir to the L’Oréal cosmetics and beauty products company’s fortune.
Sarkozy vehemently denies involvement in any of these alleged scandals, which have a way of dragging on for years before any decision is reached, often finally to be dropped altogether.
Leave a Reply