Monday, 27 March 2017

Dirty tricks ?

In a scene from second-rate film that was shown on TV last night, a woman chef who has just been engaged as the personal cook of the French President is being taken through the daily routine by a protocol officer:

“At 11am you will know if your proposal for the day’s menu has been approved and how many guest to prepare it for. You then have two hours to prepare the meal  - lunch must be served at 1.15pm sharp”.

“But ever since I arrived”, she protests, “I’ve only heard about procedures and protocol. Could I not speak to the President himself to ask him what he likes and what he is expecting of me?”

“That’s not the way we do things here” the supercilious protocol officer replies,  “If the President wishes to speak to you, he will let you know.”*

Listening to this dialogue, my immediate reaction was that it could have taken place over 200 years ago in the Château de Versailles with the word “President” replaced by the word ”King”. Look no further for a neat illustration of the phrase “the Republican Monarch” that has often and aptly been used to describe Presidents of the Fifth Republic.

Does this Republican Monarch indulge in dirty tricks to disparage and damage his political opponents? That, after all, is what the right-wing presidential candidate, François Fillon, accused the current President of, very clearly, in a political talk show last Thursday evening.  He quoted from an as yet unpublished book (Bienvenue Place Beauvau) written by three journalists, in which they are reported to describe how various bits of information gathered from police nosing and eavesdropping are reported directly to the President.  The French police are under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior which is housed place Beauvau in Paris, just a few yards from the Elysée Palace. In an interview the next day, one of the authors contradicted Fillon’s claims that the President had set up a special "dirty tricks office" (un cabinet noir)  but went on to say that although he and his fellow authors had marshalled evidence for such activities since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958, they were totally unable to prove anything, however much they would have liked to. Another journalist, asked what he thought of Fillon’s accusations, avoided answering the question but considered that Fillon was simply trying to deflect attention from his own misdeeds. Yet another noted that there was probably no such thing as a "dirty tricks office" but that the President had people in whom he had full confidence in strategic posts so that he is always in a position to know the results of intelligence gathering activities.

This last statement has a ring of truth about it. Any President of any country has to make it his business to have the best possible intelligence about everything, including what his political opponents may be up to  - and the various French intelligence services are not known for their incompetence!  What he does with that information and whether his conduct in this respect is strictly legal or not is almost impossible to know and totally impossible to prove. Being both the Head of State and the de facto Head of Government, a Republican Monarch in France has more power than most. As Lord Acton said famously: "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely".

* Unless otherwise stated, all translations from French and German in this blog are my own. 

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