French Speaker 'is about to be indicted'

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The Independent Online
HENRI EMMANUELLI, the President of the French National Assembly, is to be charged in connection with illegal political party funding, Le Monde reported yesterday. The ruling Socialist Party denounced the leak to the newspaper as a political machination.

The indictment of Mr Emmanuelli, 47, would be a severe blow to a body politic scraping along the bottom of public esteem. As President, or Speaker of the lower house of parliament, Mr Emmanuelli comes fourth in the state hierarchy, after President Francois Mitterrand, the president of the Senate and the prime minister.

And it would further enfeeble the image of a government which has been bruised by the 10 days of lorry-drivers' roadblocks which paralysed the motorway network until Tuesday. The last drivers' barricade was removed yesterday but some drivers tried a rearguard action by driving at a snail's pace to slow traffic. A number of political commentators have suggested that serious reforms are needed to restore state authority.

With the referendum on the Maastricht treaty taking place on 20 September, politicians who support the European union treaty have the most to fear from the damage done. Many analysts suspect the drivers' conflict has increased the average citizen's contempt for the political class. Mr Emmanuelli's troubles can only accentuate this. The referendum would be the ideal occasion to register this disillusionment.

If charged, Mr Emmanuelli will almost certainly have to resign. Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, interviewed on television, refused to be drawn on whether Mr Emmanuelli, whom he called 'a perfectly honest man', should step down.

Le Monde said Mr Emmanuelli, elected as speaker in January, would be summoned to a meeting next month to be told of his indictment by Renaud Van Ruymbeke, an examining magistrate in the city of Rennes, who is investigating a complicated web of alleged illegal financing. This is known as the 'Urba' affair after one of the front companies set up to collect funds for the party in the 1980s.

Mr Emmanuelli, whose staff said yesterday that he had not so far received the summons, is a former party treasurer. A Socialist Party statement on Le Monde report said it 'could only have a political motive'.

Mr Van Ruymbeke took away documents from Socialist Party headquarters in Paris after a search there the day the former speaker, Laurent Fabius, took over as party first secretary at the beginning of the year. The news about Mr Emmanuelli was released on the eve of a Socialist Party congress in Bordeaux and Mr Beregovoy said he was 'surprised' that juridical secrecy was not respected.

A number of Socialist officials have been charged in the Urba dossier. The investigations even led to the suicide of a Socialist mayor in Britanny last year. The allegations concern illegal payments, often rake-offs from contracts awarded by Socialist municipalities, into party funds. In some cases, personal enrichment is suspected. A law on political funding, passed two years ago, imposed strict new controls.

Two weeks ago, Francois Leotard, a leader of the centre- right Union for French Democracy, resigned all his political posts when he was charged with corruption over a property deal. In May, Bernard Tapie, the flamboyant entrepreneur-turned-politician, resigned as Minister for Towns after only seven weeks in the post just before he was charged with fraud. Both cases reinforced the impression among ordinary people that politicians are dishonest.

After the drivers' protests against new driving licence laws, it has also become a time for licking wounds and reviewing the 10-day challenge to authority. The press reaction includes contempt for the truck-drivers. 'The France of the Fat Arses', was the banner across the popular VSD weekly yesterday, above a photograph of corpulent drivers at a barricade.

Jean-Francois Kahn, the editor of L'Evenement du Jeudi, saw ominous signs in the protest. 'Times change. In the past, this (type of) situation was presented as the archetype of the reactionary, fascist plot. Now the Communist organ L'Humanite is plainly pleased and pushes for the mutiny to grow. A change of direction? Yes and no. Converted to anarchy, the orphans of Stalinism are in fact logical with themselves.'

Mr Kahn accused the 'co-ordinations' which have supplanted traditional trade unions among the drivers and militant farmers of an extremism which served both the Communists and the far-right National Front. 'It is our bourgeois democratic legalism (sic) that they are targeting. The mob, with the instruments of coercion that it controls, is pitting its individual law against collective law . . . the legality of the tribe against that of the nation. Total subversion]'

Paris-Match laid much of the blame on a lack of government communication, saying that the new licence laws, aimed at reducing France's horrific road-accident statistics, had been inadequately explained. 'A country where government measures are taken before proper consultations produce a minimum consensus is a badly governed country,' wrote Marc Ullmann. 'A country where malcontents trouble public order instead of resorting to the ritual forms of protest, like strikes and marches, is not a very democratic country.

Those are the two sad truths brutally revealed by the drivers' revolt.'

(Photograph omitted)