Europe and Sleaze

Article published on Feb. 6, 2004
community published
Article published on Feb. 6, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Whoever is in power has the right to help themselves – at least that’s what some of Europe’s political elite seem to think. What’s needed is much greater transparency.

Alain Juppé, the erstwhile French Prime Minister and crown prince to President Chirac, has been sentenced to eighteen months probation and banned from elected office for ten years for “illegal use of influence.” France’s political elite is up in arms. The sentence is “disproportionate, hypocritical, and cynical,” says Eric Raoult, the acting chair of the National Assembly. Jacques Chirac has questioned the impartiality of the court and praised Juppé’s “extraordinary qualities,” and above all his “honesty.” Even a commentator in the left-liberal newspaper “Le Monde” found the sentence “unjust.”

Defiant elites

So let’s take a look at the facts, which are well known and led to the inevitable verdict. From 1990 to 1995, Juppé was responsible for finances at the city hall in Paris, as well as being Secretary General for his party, the RPR. During this time, seven jobs connected to the party were funded out of the city budget, including Chirac’s personal RPR secretary who was then the mayor of Paris and the Party chair. The damage to the city of Paris and the tax payer amounted to at least 1.2 million Euro. It is only by virtue of his presidential immunity that Chirac avoided a similar prosecution. Juppé remains defiant and wants to appeal the decision - and till then, continue as if nothing has happened.

Fraud and corruption seem to be mere trivial offences for some personalities in the power-elite. Silvio Berlusconi got himself a tailor-made immunity bill to avoid prosecution for bribery. The bill was quickly picked up by the Italian Constitutional Court – it violates the constitutional principal of equality. In Germany, the former Minister of the Interior, Manfred Kanther, must answer for committing perjury before the Court. In the 1980s he managed to smuggle 10 million Euro in illegal earnings into the CDU coffers, passing it off as “Jewish bequests.” Like Berlusconi, Kanther accused the judges of being politically motivated and continues to protest his innocence. One wonders why he is so keen to avoid trial, then.

Transparency instead of sleaze

Corruption flourishes in obscurity, in opaque and undemocratic networks which withdraw from the light of public scrutiny. The European Union with its often impenetrable decision-making processes lends itself precisely to this kind of fraud and bribery. Following the Eurostat scandal, the farming authorities are now coming under investigation. Two thirds of EU-Citizens think that corruption in EU authorities is not unusual. Instead of promoting “good governance” in newly democratic countries, the EU should have a look at its own state of affairs. International forums like the OECD Anti-Corruption Convention must be replicated in the European context. Restoring confidence in politics requires transparent and democratic structures which allow voters to have some control over the political elites. It also requires serious investigative media, and a fearless justice system that is prepared to go after “white-collar” crime with the same severity applied to the every-day rabble. French judges are taking a courageous step in the right direction.