After Marine Le Pen’s Front National topped the poll in last month’s elections to the European Parliament, France’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party – the centre-right party once led by ex-President Nicholas Sarkozy and Le Pen’s only rival for right-wing votes – has plunged further into scandal and confusion after already enduring months of leadership in-fighting.
This week the former deputy manager of Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential campaign admitted the party ran a system of double-bookkeeping to hide millions in illegal overspending during the campaign.
Jérôme Lavrilleux was taken into custody on Tuesday night and held for 11 hours by members of the serious fraud squad. He was reported to have admitted running a system of false invoices for sums that have been estimated to total as much as €18m (£14.3m).
Between this scandal which the left-wing newspaper Libération calls “a crisis without precedence” in the UMP, and the collapse in the opinion polls for the Socialist President François Hollande, now the most unpopular president of modern times at below 20 per cent, Le Pen stands to benefit enormously in the presidential election in two years’ time.
While the former right-hand man of the leader of the UMP faces the possibility of criminal fraud charges, Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister, is facing a series of trade union strikes against government attempts at reforms meant to revitalise the economy. There have been rail strikes this week and the air traffic controllers are threatening to go out next week.
Valls warned this week in a radio interview that “the Left could die” if it does not embrace reforms.
“What could kill it is the century-old debate of the French left, which refuses to accept its responsibilities.”
Members of the Government’s own Socialist Party in the National Assembly are threatening to vote down plans for tax cuts mainly for business and a series of spending cuts.
It is just one gift after another for Le Pen.