French newspaper round-up 9 February 2017

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François Fillon fights back as the net of accusations closes around him. If it looks increasingly as if the man who had hoped to be president will get off the judicial hook, a series of opinion polls suggest that he’ll pay a high political price for taking on three members of his own family as parliamentary collaborators.

Le Monde continues to pound right-wing presidential contender François Fillon, criticising his attempt to limit the political damage caused by revelations that he employed several members of his family as parliamentary assistants. There are, according to Le Monde, no fewer than nine problems with Fillon’s attempted defence.

Fillon, for example, ceased to employ his wife as a parliamentary assistant in November 2013, just before a new law would have obliged him to name all his collaborators. Le Monde suggests that this is hardly the act of a man who has, as he claimed earlier this month, “always been scrupulous about transparency”.

And so on, and so on … Vagueness here, inaccuracy there, a touch of forgetfulness, the odd oversight . Le Monde is scathing in its analysis of the excuses offered by the man who hopes to be the next French president.

A shining light in a landscape of dishonest desolation

Left-leaning Libération takes five statements from Fillon’s campaign programme, suggesting that he’s unlikely to be heard repeating any of them in public over the next few weeks.

My favourite is on page 65 of his booklet For You, under the heading Injustice. Fillon writes, and I quote: “Many French people are fed up with being ‘good guys’ while others clearly profit from the system.” Indeed.

Or what about: “Yes the French are generous, they want to help the less well-off. But they are increasingly exasperated by an atmosphere of waste and general dishonesty.”

And, criticising the Socialist minister Jérôme Cahuzac, caught with a fortune that he never told the tax people about, Fillon said politics depends on confidence, asserting that he, personally, had always considered being an example of honesty and integrity as essential.

Nobody believes opinion polls anymore. However . . .

Despite understandable public scepticism about opinion polls, right-wing paper Le Figaro publishes details from no fewer than three recent surveys. None of them will brighten François Fillon’s morning.

Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front is the outright winner in the first round in all three cases with between 24 and 26 percent of voting intentions.

She’s followed by independent centrist Emmanuel Macron every time, with Fillon relegated to third place and going backwards in each of the three surveys.

What price President Marine Le Pen?

Le Monde notes that Le Pen has promised to abandon the euro and bring back the franc if she’s elected in May. Le Pen says she wants to reestablish a national currency, adapted to the needs of France. Le Monde says she’s talking through her hat and that leaving the euro would be a plain and simple disaster for the country.

Why?

First of all, according to Le Monde, to make any sense, the new francs would have to be worth less than the current franc-euro rate. So the economy would face a huge devaluation. Fearing this, the rich and the well-informed will transfer money out of France into, say, the German economy. With less money available in France, interest rates will have to rise. The value of investments in life insurance will collapse.

Exports will, indeed, thrive, since buyers will get more for their bucks. But how are we going to pay for imports, notably petrol? And what about the French external debt, estimated at 300 billion euros for 2017? If we offer to pay that in francs, the country will be declared bankrupt.

And just in case you think this talk of a possible victory for the National Front candidate is pure tosh, know that the markets have already got the jitters and that the gap between French and German 10-year interest rates has doubled over the past four months. A sign that the people who make money when we lose it are beginning to think that President Le Pen is a real possibility.