Fillon Corruption Scandal Transforms French Presidential Race

Francois Fillon, France’s Republican Party Presidential candidate, confirmed on February 9,  that he used public funds to pay high salaries to his wife and children, whom he employed while serving as Prime Minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to Le Figaro. Although Fillon will remain in the Presidential race, his popularity has declined significantly. Accusations against Fillon surfaced in late January, when Le Canard Enchainé, a French investigative newspaper, wrote that Fillon’s wife, Penelope, and two children earned $1 million euros as employees of the government at the time Fillon was Prime Minister. Although employing family members for unofficial jobs is not necessarily illegal, it is a practice that is considered unacceptable by many French citizens.

Many have called on Fillon to drop out of the presidential race. The leader of the French Centrist Democratic Movement, Francois Bayrou, stated on February 8 that, “Political accountability is a responsibility that should normally be protected from any other interests.” Furthermore, polls from Le Monde report that two-thirds of French voters believe Fillon should withdraw his bid.

In the past week, Fillon has worked to patch up his campaign. He apologized for his actions at a press conference, stating, “It was an error; I profoundly regret it and I apologize to the French.” He has released all of the earnings his wife and children received during his time in office. Still, he believes that the left-leaning media intentionally used its influence to weaken his campaign.  Claiming his actions have been misrepresented, Fillon stated his wife’s work “was in no way fictitious.” He will appear publicly across France in the coming weeks to reassure voters that he is qualified to take office.

On April 23, Fillon will face off against the three remaining candidates in the first round of the French Presidential election. If one candidate does not win over 50% of total votes, the election will continue into a second round between the two candidates who received the most votes in the first round. Candidates include Benoît Hamon of the Socialist Party, Emmanuel Macron, the independent and socially progressive former Minister of the Economy, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right, National Front Party.  

Prior to the scandal, Fillon was the favorite to win the election. Now, Le Pen and Macron are dominating polls. Benoît Hamon, who narrowly beat out former Prime Minister Manuel Valls in the socialist primaries, is still seen as the weakest candidate. Advocating a 32-hour work week and universal wage benefits, Hamon’s radical stance has divided left-wing voters, causing many to favor Macron. Macron is now beating out Fillon in recent polls. On the other end of the political spectrum, Le Pen has become a right-wing frontrunner by appealing to those who oppose immigration and feel disenfranchised by the economic effects of globalization.

The Fillon scandal has shifted predictions of the outcome of the French election. Still, Fillon’s efforts in the next month will factor heavily into the final election results.