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  • Nobody should be above the law

    France's president

    Excessively immune syndrome

    Feb 5th 2004
    From The Economist print edition


    Nobody should be above the law—not even Jacques Chirac

    AFP




    ANOTHER week, another French politician convicted of corruption. Only this time the politician, Alain Juppé, was not just a former prime minister, serving mayor of Bordeaux and president of the ruling UMP political party. More tellingly, he was the protégé, closest associate and preferred successor of the French president, Jacques Chirac. And the party-financing chicanery for which he was convicted took place when he was working for Mr Chirac, then mayor of Paris, in the mid-1990s. Indeed, the judges hinted strongly that Mr Chirac was really responsible.

    Mr Juppé is appealing against his conviction (see article). But the case raises an obvious question: why is the president not in the dock as well? The answer is that, under the constitution, he enjoys sweeping immunity from prosecution for any offence short of high treason, even one committed before he assumed office. In 1999 Mr Chirac obtained a ruling from France's constitutional council that this immunity allowed him to refuse to answer questions put by an investigating magistrate. Mr Chirac insists that the immunity is meant not to protect him, but to uphold the dignity of the presidency—although he has conceded that the constitution should have a mechanism for presidential impeachment.

    It is true that, in many countries, presidents, prime ministers and other office holders enjoy various immunities. They cannot be sued for what they say in parliament, for example; nor, in general, can they be prosecuted for acts undertaken as part of their official duties. The reason for such immunities is partly historical—monarchs could not be tried in their own courts. But it is also practical: nobody wants heads of government to be distracted by a wave of lawsuits that might be malicious in intent or politically motivated.

    Yet Mr Chirac's immunity goes far beyond what is needed to avoid distractions. It extends to criminal as well as civil acts, and it covers deeds, such as those for which Mr Juppé was convicted, that have nothing to do with official duties. In effect, it puts Mr Chirac above the law—so long as he remains president. That has a perverse effect on French politics, by giving Mr Chirac a big incentive to remain president. If he seeks to return to the Elysée palace in 2007, when he will be 74, it may just be to avoid a trip to the palace of justice.

    Mr Chirac's immunity is also far broader than that of most of his counterparts. The American president can, as Bill Clinton famously discovered in the Paula Jones case in 1997, be called to answer even civil lawsuits. Israel's Ariel Sharon may soon face criminal charges. Most European heads of government are subject to normal prosecution for criminal (and sometimes also civil) offences. Indeed, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is due to return to court soon—after his attempt to give himself just the sort of immunity that Mr Chirac enjoys was thrown out by Italy's constitutional court last month.

    The court's reasoning should apply to Mr Chirac as much as to Mr Berlusconi. In particular, the Italian justices rejected the immunity bill because it contravened the well-understood principle that everybody should be equal under the law. Far from lending dignity to the French presidency, Mr Chirac's immunity, even from criminal investigation, brings the office, the state and the entire judicial system into disrepute. It is time to amend the French constitution to bring presidential immunity into line with other countries—and to call Mr Chirac, as much as Mr Juppé, to account.




    Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist

  • #2
    Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is due to return to court soon—after his attempt to give himself just the sort of immunity that Mr Chirac enjoys was thrown out by Italy's constitutional court last month.
    Berlusconi is, rather worryingly, probably a lot worse than Chirac.

    Comment


    • #3
      [quote=Weird_English_Guy,Feb 21 2004, 05:01 PM]
      Originally posted by lazydaze,Feb 21 2004, 04:57 PM
      France's president






      Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is due to return to court soon—after his attempt to give himself just the sort of immunity that Mr Chirac enjoys was thrown out by Italy's constitutional court last month.





      Berlusconi is, rather worryingly, probably a lot worse than Chirac.
      You look DAMN good for a Weird_English_Guy
      Be passionate about what you believe in, or why bother.

      Comment


      • #4
        Reflections on things past

        Feb 5th 2004 | PARIS
        From The Economist print edition


        AFP





        Jacques Chirac's future plans are upset by the conviction of his one-time protégé, and former prime minister, Alain Juppé


        AT FIRST glance, it might seem a narrow past affair of a has-been ex-prime minister. But the conviction last week of Alain Juppé in a political-corruption trial has far-reaching implications, despite his defiant decision to remain in elected office pending an appeal. It leaves wide open a power struggle on France's centre-right. And it raises fresh questions about the future of President Jacques Chirac.

        Grabbing 20 minutes of prime-time television news on February 3rd, Mr Juppé said he was “shattered” by the verdict. Before it, hacks in the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, of which Mr Juppé is president, were discussing which portfolio he might take when he returned to government. But his conviction, for allowing party workers to be paid by Paris's town hall while he was treasurer and Mr Chirac was mayor, was unequivocal. Mr Juppé received an 18-month suspended sentence and was ruled ineligible for elected office for ten years, a harsher penalty even than the prosecution had demanded. He had, the court said bluntly, “deceived the trust of the people.”

        The Juppé camp has not hidden its indignation. On television, Mr Juppé portrayed himself as a victim, insisting: “I don't deserve this.” His supporters have queued up to sing his virtues and criticise the sentence. “It's not as if he was filling his own pockets,” said one stunned colleague. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the prime minister, called the verdict “provisional”. Mr Chirac, visibly taken aback, praised Mr Juppé's “exceptional quality, competence, humanity and honesty”, and invited him to dine tête-à-tête at the Elysée.

        Mr Juppé had earlier promised that he would withdraw from public life if convicted. The pleas from Mr Chirac and others persuaded him to fight on. He will now remain a member of parliament and mayor of Bordeaux during his appeal, and he will give up the leadership of the UMP only at its annual congress in November.

        Mr Juppé's startling defiance reveals two underlying concerns. The first is the succession to the presidency, for which Mr Juppé has long been groomed. The disarray in the party this week exposes starkly that there is no plan B. Mr Juppé may not have been in government, but he has been a backstage mastermind. A good early guide to Mr Chirac's decisions are Mr Juppé's declarations. Before the president proposed a ban on religious signs in state schools, Mr Juppé advocated one. He has been busy building up the UMP, a party created from the merger of previous centre-right parties, including Mr Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR). In short, Mr Juppé was well-placed for a comeback—and perhaps for the presidency in 2007.

        That path now looks all but blocked. The prospect of his conviction being over-turned on appeal, a process that could take up to a year, is slim. It is true that Roland Dumas, a former head of the constitutional council, had his conviction in an earlier corruption trial reversed on appeal. But Mr Juppé's case looks trickier. His defence rested not on a denial of the facts—that employees paid by the town hall were actually working for the RPR—but on his supposed ignorance of them. Yet during the trial, which also involved other town hall bosses, the court heard testimony from Mr Juppé's own former cabinet head that “everybody knew”. Mr Juppé was the party's secretary-general as well as the town hall treasurer.

        He may have a better chance of securing a lighter sentence, but that will still leave him with a tough fight to win back public confidence. A Paris-Match poll this week showed that, although a majority considered his sentence “severe”, 58% did not want him to have any future political role. The cool technocrat was already unloved for his heavy-handed efforts to force through reforms in 1995-97. His political resuscitation now looks extremely unlikely.

        Which leaves la chiraquie, the president's political machine, in a bind. The strongest alternative UMP candidate is the one they most fear and distrust: Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister. Mr Chirac has never forgiven him for backing a rival candidate, Edouard Balladur, for the presidency in 1995. But Mr Sarkozy is now the most popular politician on the right: last month, 56% rated him as a presidential candidate, next to 51% for Mr Chirac and only 35% for Mr Juppé. The Chirac camp remains determined to thwart his ambitions. Hence the pressure on Mr Juppé to stay in office and clear his name.

        The absence of credible alternatives from within the Chirac camp touches the second big concern. If nobody else can stop Mr Sarkozy, and Mr Juppé's ineligibility is confirmed, Mr Chirac may decide to run for a third presidential term himself. This could deal with two inconveniences at once: the Sarkozy threat and the legal charges that may yet be brought against Mr Chirac. If Mr Juppé is guilty, in an affair about which “everybody knew”, what possible defence could his boss offer?

        The president's immunity from prosecution while he is in office evaporates when he steps down. The mainstream opposition has been slow to jump on this, but a few voices are now being heard. Libération, a left-leaning newspaper, wrote this week of the “berlusconisation of Chirac”. Arnaud Montebourg, a Socialist MP who has campaigned to get Mr Chirac into court, declared that “if justice had been able to go all the way, Jacques Chirac would not be currently at the Elysée.” Meanwhile Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front, which stands to do depressingly well in next month's regional elections, is relishing the affair, lambasting the UMP's “arrogant dishonesty”.

        In some ways, the Juppé verdict points to a renewed robustness in the French judicial system. Not that no efforts were made to interfere in the trial. Three separate inquiries have been set up—by parliament, the justice ministry and Mr Chirac—into allegations of interference reported by Catherine Pierce, the presiding judge. Some speculate that the inquiries are just a political bid to throw the verdict into doubt, but the court insists that it reached its verdict in “total impartiality”. The judgment also comes shortly after top bosses in the Elf corruption trial were put behind bars. Increasingly, it seems, nobody in France is beyond the reach of the law—except, of course, Mr Chirac.

        Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist

        Comment


        • #5
          [quote=madyaks,Feb 21 2004, 05:03 PM]
          Originally posted by Weird_English_Guy,Feb 21 2004, 05:01 PM
          Originally posted by lazydaze,Feb 21 2004, 04:57 PM
          France's president






          Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is due to return to court soon—after his attempt to give himself just the sort of immunity that Mr Chirac enjoys was thrown out by Italy's constitutional court last month.





          Berlusconi is, rather worryingly, probably a lot worse than Chirac.
          You look DAMN good for a Weird_English_Guy
          I like to think so , although I seemingly can't quote properly the first time I try.

          Comment


          • #6


            Pour le future J' espere etre American
            AKA reddevil
            AKA davel a devil

            [COLOR=red'][/COLOR]

            Comment


            • #7
              Does it concern you that Richard Perle says the invasion of Iraq was illegal?

              http://www.guardian.co.uk/iraq/Story...089158,00.html
              Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law ~

              A.C.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by davel@Feb 21 2004, 06:49 PM


                Pour le future J' espere etre American
                Bien que nous sommes faibles traître est, ne pas être fié
                Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist

                Comment


                • #9
                  QUOTE
                  Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is due to return to court soon—after his attempt to give himself just the sort of immunity that Mr Chirac enjoys was thrown out by Italy's constitutional court last month.



                  Berlusconi is, rather worryingly, probably a lot worse than Chirac. [/CODE]
                  Probably? No offense, but Silvio makes Tony Soprano look like Tony Randall. Italian politics are unique to say the least, but he has taken corruption and graft to new heights.

                  Moon

                  Comment

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