Mommy and Daddy Issues in the 2017 French Presidential Election

There are officially two candidates left standing in France’s extremely unpredictable May 7th presidential election – Emmanuel Macron for the center and Marine Le Pen for the far-right.  It’s going to be a historically close race.  And even though the candidate is supposed to be running alone and their family members shouldn’t matter, we all know that’s just not true.  Last week, Francois Fillon lost his bid for the presidency due to (among other things) the “Penelopegate” scandal where he was accused of using public funds to provide a fictional job for his wife, Penelope.  This week, no one cares about Penelope. This week, we care about Mommy and Daddy.

Let’s talk about “Mommy” first.  The media is paying a lot of attention to Emmanuel Macron’s wife, Brigitte Trogneux.  Brigitte is 64 and Emmanuel is 39.  They have been married for 10 years.

Young drama student Emmanuel Macron with his drama coach and future wife.
Young drama student Emmanuel Macron with his drama coach and future wife.

They have no children together but Brigitte has seven grandchildren.  So, the young Presidential candidate is already a step-grandfather.  They met when he was a student at a private Jesuit school where she was teaching.  She was his drama coach; they adapted a play together when he was 15 and she was 40.  He said he knew right then and there that he wanted to marry her and he eventually did.  A little bit unconventional?  Yeah, maybe, but that guy knows what he wants and went out and got it. I like that.  But not everybody does.

Now that Mr. Macron might be President, his wife is being seen as a cougar, a predator, someone who abused her position of trust as his teacher.  A tacky Taiwanese video portrays Brigitte ambling up the wedding aisle with a walker.  Another campaign alleges that Emmanuel Macron is a homosexual.  And, of course, there’s the more classic Oedipus complex angle of the man being in love with his mother.  Would any of these theories even matter if he were 25 years older than her?  Of course not.  Unfortunately, ageism and sexism are still alive and well and rearing their ugly heads during this election campaign.

Brigitte Trogneux (she didn’t take the Macron name when they were married) is the inspiration behind her husband’s bid for the French Presidency.  She is his trusted coach, his adviser – handling his agenda and helping him

Mr. Macron and his wife Brigitte in 2017.
Mr. Macron and his wife Brigitte in 2017.

with his speeches.  Emmanuel Macron constantly acknowledges her importance to him.  “Without her, I wouldn’t be who I am,” he has said.  The attention that the age difference is getting is turning out to be a distraction, one that his “En Marche” center party doesn’t need in the last remaining days before the election.  Hopefully, the French can look beyond that when they cast their ballot.

Now let’s walk over to the far-right side and talk about Daddy.  Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate, is the youngest daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.  He is 89 years old; has run the party for four decades and founded it on racist, hateful, xenophobic tenets.  He was suspended from the party in 2011 after publicly stating that the gas chambers were just a “detail” of World War II.  Madame Le Pen’s Daddy is a polarizing figure in French politics who loves to be hated.  He was convicted 15 times and has paid more than 30,000 Euros in fines for hate speeches.  Marine claims she is “estranged” from her father.  But is she?  And, if she is, what does that say about her?

Marine Le Pen markets herself as the Populist candidate, the person who will speak for the working class of France.  She claims to understand the ordinary guys and is not one of the present “bourgeois elite”

Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie before their Family Feud.
Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie before their Family Feud.

who govern this country.  However, her Daddy inherited 5 Million Euros (about $5,450,000) and an 11-room mansion in 1977.  The donor was Hubert Lambert of Lambert Cement, a wealthy French Industrialist and an ardent National Front supporter who wanted Jean-Marie to become president one day.  (Mr. Le Pen ran for President and lost five times – in 1974, 1988, 1995, 2002 and 2007).  Without this generous donation from a bourgeois elitist, the National Front Party would not exist.  Marine Le Pen clearly benefited and continues to benefit from this political inheritance.   Daddy, in a roundabout financial way at least, is the source of her rise to power.  So why is she trying to distance herself from him?  Why doesn’t she talk to him or answer his messages?

Marine Le Pen is trying to win a more moderate part of the French electorate.  Daddy gets people angry and she doesn’t want that.  She wants votes – this time enough votes to win the presidency.  She has toned down the racist hate-talk that her Daddy is famous for, but is still representing the National Front party, the one that has xenophobia and racism as its base.  If she really wanted a more moderate platform, why didn’t she just start her own party and divorce Daddy completely?  It’s an easy-enough thing to do in France.  Emmanuel Macron started his own party, as did seven other initial presidential candidates.  When Marine Le Pen won the first round, she didn’t mention Daddy.

And the winner is.....
And the winner is…..

He texted her a congratulatory note, she didn’t answer.  She also avoided him on May 1st, the traditional National Front speech day.  Daddy spoke in front of the Joan of Arc statue in the center of Paris and she picked a venue in a more modest area in the northern part of the city.  She used him to get where she is, a stone’s throw away from the presidency, the biggest Elitist office this country has to offer.

French citizens will go to the polls on Sunday, May 7th.  The whole world will be watching this extremely important election for France and for the future of Europe.  Mommy and Daddy will be watching too.  We’ll have to wait until Sunday to see which one wins.

PenelopeGate – A New Feminine Twist on French Political Scandal

There’s another political scandal blazing in France and this time it doesn’t involve the President taking a ride on a Vespa and paying a nocturnal visit to his girlfriend. It still concerns a woman though, but a woman who has done, and openly admits to doing, nothing. No problem in that, in and of itself, except that she was allegedly paid 831,400 Euros (about $894,000) for that “nothing.” Now that’s a problem.

Francois Fillon, the Presidential candidate for the French Republican party, and the frontrunner, is suddenly

Penelope Fillon out and about in Paris.
Penelope Fillon out and about in Paris.

embroiled in a situation that is wreaking havoc on his party and the whole country.  Mr. Fillon is accused of falsely employing his wife, Penelope Fillon, as a Parliamentary assistant over several years and paying her an enormous sum of money – from public funds.  There is nothing illegal about employing family members in the French political system (nepotism is welcome here).  What the voters are upset about is that it seems there is no proof that she actually worked in the Parliament.  There is no trace of a badge, no pay slips, no one remembers seeing her working in the wings of the Parliament building.  Adding to this is the alleged salary of 84,000 Euros (about $90,000) that Mr. Fillon paid to two of his adult children for their legal advice.  Again, hiring family members as lawyers is not illegal, however, his children were not yet qualified lawyers when they were paid.  They were still students.

Before the investigative French newspaper “Canard Enchainé” broke the story, Francois Fillon was the morally irreproachable man of the hour.  He won the Republican primary by a landslide.  He had been the Prime Minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and was the perfect candidate from the right to replace the Socialist President, Francois Hollande.

Fillon family at their French chateau.
Fillon family at their French chateau.

His solid, Catholic family was picture-perfect – married for 37 years to the same woman, Penelope, who is of Welsh origin.  They are both in their early 60’s and have five children.  They live in an honest-to-goodness chateau in the Sarthes region of France.  In the rare television or newspaper interviews that Penelope has given, she has always talked about how she was just an ordinary housewife bringing up her children and letting Francois handle the political stuff.  In October 2016, she was quoted as saying, “Up until now, I have never been involved in the political life of my husband.”  Unfortunately, she is very involved now, and may be the reason that her husband’s political life might soon be over.

So, what’s happening now in French political circles?  Well, it’s one ill-timed, right-sided mess.  The first round of the presidential election is April 23rd.  Mr. Fillon and his family are being questioned this week.  They could be exonerated of all suspicion or the affair could continue to criminal court, and if that happens, Mr. Fillon could not run for President.  This is not the first time a politician is accused of mis-use of public funds – far from it.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is one happy camper.
Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is one happy camper.

The problem is the timing.  If Mr. Fillon were President, the government would have to wait until his term was over to take him to Court to settle this accusation.  However, he is only a candidate.  But, he is the only candidate that many French people think could have easily won the Presidential race…that is, until the doors of “PenelopeGate” opened.

Recent polls say that 6 out of 10 voters want Francois Fillon to resign as presidential candidate. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux who lost to Mr. Fillon in the primary, has already stated he refuses to be the “Plan B.” The party would have to come up with someone else – but they are running out of time. Meanwhile, this instability definitely helps the other runners.  The ones who are currently left standing are Marine Le Pen, the far-right, anti-immigration, anti-EU, Trump-loving representative of the National Front party; Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister under President Hollande, who is running as an independent; the Socialist rebel and ex-minister of Education, Benoit Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the perpetual candidate from the hard-left.

Mr. Fillon's campaign tract calling PenelopeGate a witch hunt.
Mr. Fillon’s campaign tract calling PenelopeGate a witch hunt.

Francois Fillon is on the road campaigning this weekend; claiming this whole deal is a witch hunt, a set-up by his political enemies.  He is asking his supporters to just look at his program but, when they do that, they see he wants to cut 500,000 civil service jobs, which does not look good next to the allegations of paying his wife close to a million euros for allegedly not working at all.

It seems that, at this point, it doesn’t even matter whether or not Fillon mis-used public funds – the damage is already done.  The entire Republican party is in disarray and the Presidential election is around the corner.  How they will get out of this sticky situation is anyone’s guess.  Maybe there’s another woman hanging around on the left who can generate another political scandal.  That seems to be business-as-usual in French (and other) political circles.