Emmanuel Macron’s political honeymoon is already over

Rocky start.
Rocky start.
Image: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes
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French president Emmanuel Macron swept into power on the promise to clean up French politics. But the country’s youngest president appears to have missed a massive stain—within his own government.

In the past 48 hours, four government ministers have resigned from Macron’s administration following allegations of corruption. The rapid succession of the resignations is a sign that fighting graft in French politics won’t be easy. The resignations came just days after his new party, La République En Marche, won a decisive victory in Sunday’s (June 18) parliamentary election, characterized by extremely low turnout.

The first blow came from Richard Ferrand, Macron’s close political aide, minister for territorial integrity, and secretary-general of La République en Marche. Ferrand announced he was resigning on Monday following allegations he used insider information to secure a property deal for his wife (French prosecutors launched a preliminary investigation into the nepotism scandal).

On Tuesday, defence minister Sylvie Goulard, of centrist party Democratic Movement (MoDem) also quit the government. The next day, Goulard’s resignation was followed by an announcement that the leader of MoDem—François Bayrou—would also leave the government. Minutes after Bayrou’s announcement, Marielle de Sarnez, minister for European affairs, also resigned.

Bayrou’s party has been embroiled in its own corruption scandal. MoDem is facing an enquiry into allegations it used funds from the European Union (EU) to pay party workers. MoDem said it has “respected all the rules and employer regulations” with regard to its EU’s parliamentary assistants.

Bayrou was an early supporter of Macron during the presidential race—the endorsement, described then as a surprising and unprecedented, was a pivotal moment for Macron’s campaign. Ironically, Bayrou’s support for Macron was conditional on his support for a bill to clean up French politics. The bill would prevent politicians from hiring members of their own family, reform party finances, and ban politicians convicted of corruption for up to ten years.

All four ministers deny any wrongdoing in their respective imbroglios and have yet to be charged. A spokesman for Macron’s government, Christophe Castaner, said their resignations “simplified the situation.”

It’s a troubling twist for Macron, who steered clear of scandal during the presidential race, and vowed to bring forth a new era in French politics void of corruption and fraud. The downfall of his close rival, centre right candidate François Fillon, centered on allegations that he had paid family members for fake parliamentary jobs. On the far right, Marine Le Pen, who achieved the best result yet for her National Front party in the presidential election, was dogged by an investigation into her spending as a member of European Parliament.