Wed May 10th, 2006 at 11:20:08 AM EST
from the diaries, with small format edit -- Jérôme
After a day or so's rest, L'Affaire Clearstream has blown up again, with revelations in today's Canard enchaîné that place Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on the skids and President Chirac, to quote his own words, dans la merde.
I originally meant to try to explain the Clearstream Affairs (there are two of them), but it's a complicated story. If you have a few hours and a stock of aspirin to spare, Wikipedia on Clearstream will give you something to chew on. (Chew chew chew...)
What matters is this: two years ago, a smear job was launched on (at least) Nicolas Sarkozy, wannabe president of France and enemy of Villepin and Chirac. The smear didn't stick, an investigation showed it was a put-up job, and a new investigation began to identify who was behind it. Now, as revelation succeeds revelation, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Villepin to deny his implication in launching the smear.
What is likely to happen as a result?
For one thing, Villepin himself is one of the very last people who believes he's going to stay on as Prime Minister. Pretty much everyone else is betting on who will take his place. The Canard reports (unsourced, but the Canard can be trusted) Chirac as saying:
"Si on continue à s'enfoncer dans la merde, la fin du quinquennat pourrait être compromise"
If we keep on sinking into the shit, the end of (my) mandate could be compromised.
To clear up the atmosphere, Villepin needs to go; but Chirac is further quoted as saying: "ce n'est pas facile d'écarter Dominique" (It's not easy to discard Dominique). Why would that be? According to the Canard, because Chirac himself has little or no moral authority left; and because, possibly, Villepin has leverage in the form of <sshhh> secrets about Chirac...
More from the Canard:
Sorti gravement brûlé de l'épreuve du CPE, Villepin est carbonisé par l'affaire Clearstream (...) Il a perdu tout crédit et il est incapable de gouverner avec efficacité. Mais (...) il s'accroche à son siège (...) fort de l'assurance de rester à Matignon...
Badly burned by the CPE ordeal, Villepin is done to a crisp by the Clearstream Affair... He has lost all credit and is incapable of governing efficiently. But... he is hanging on to his seat... confident he will stay on at Matignon...
Qui peut croire que Villepin, si intime de Chirac et depuis tant d'années, n'est pas au courant (...) des grands et petits secrets du chef de l'Etat? Et qu'il ignore tout, par exemple, de l'enquête (...) sur le compte bancaire de Chirac au Japon?
Who can believe that Villepin, so close to Chirac for so many years, is not informed about the head of state's secrets, large and small? And that he knows nothing, for example, about the inquiry into Chirac's Japonese bank account?
The Canard adds another quote from Villepin himself, dating back to just after his ill-fated advice to dissolve Parliament in 1997 :
"Le Président ne peut pas me virer. Il m'a introduit dans le saint des saints. Je sais beaucoup de choses. A l'extérieur de son système, je deviendrais une bombe à retardement."
The president can't fire me. He took me into the holy of holies. I know a lot of things. Once outside his networks, I'd become a time bomb.
Well, perhaps the time bomb will stay on. In which case, it's only a matter of time before he goes off with a bang and brings the whole edifice crashing around his ears : Villepin, the UMP, Chirac, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all... The best outcome the left could wish for...
Either that, or Chirac prevails and persuades him to go (though what incentives Chirac has left to offer, I fail to see). What are the hot tips for new prime Minister?
- Sarkozy hisself : Jérôme and I have already suggested Chirac might like to put him in the hot seat and destroy him before the elections. The trouble with that scenario is that Sarkozy is very free to say no (in fact, the Canard reports he already has...) It seems Sarko has, however, some lingering doubts. Vanity speaking? "I, Super-Sarko, will succeed where all others have failed"?
- Jacques Barrot : currently EU Commissioner for Transport (see Debunking the EU official line where Fearless Leader questions Barrot in public). He would be a very safe pair of hands to conduct Chirac's precious mandate to its end. But it seems he has already indicated he would rather stay in Brussels...
- Michèle Alliot-Marie, aka MAM, currently Defence Minister. The Canard says Chirac doesn't want her because she attacked Villepin on TV the other day (rat, sinking ship?)
- Antoine Rufenacht : mayor of Le Havre, ran Chirac's 2002 election campaign; unassuming, second-string. The Canard quotes Chirac: "...he lacks charisma, but he has the advantage of being a Gaullist and he'll have no problems with the UMP deputies."
These are the names that are going round (openly, in the press). Rufenacht seems to be the favourite, but that may change, or new names pop up. The fun will be if it's Sarko, who will spend a year dodging Whack a Mole shots from Chirac's lot plus the left. The unfun is that, of course, it's the extreme right that is strengthening in all this.
What was that above about Chirac having a Japanese bank account? The one at the Sowa Bank, with FF 300 mn in it? (€46 mn or $58 mn). Aw, that's enough for one diary...