French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was to face a grilling in
parliament as lawmakers debate a no confidence motion tabled by the opposition
Socialists over the Clearstream dirty tricks scandal.
French Prime Minister
Dominique de Villepin was to face a grilling in parliament as lawmakers
debate a no confidence motion tabled by the opposition Socialists over the
Clearstream dirty tricks scandal. [AFP]
Although the motion has no chance of succeeding - the centre-right Union for
a Popular Movement (UMP) has a large overall majority - the government will have
to fight off tough questioning in the National Assembly.
For more than two weeks the so-called Clearstream affair has dominated the
national press, with a steady stream of revelations about money-laundering,
spies, defence contracts and, at the heart, an alleged smear campaign against
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also the ruling party boss.
The government's popularity and international reputation have plunged amid
reports that President Jacques Chirac and his ally Villepin ordered a spymaster
to probe claims that Sarkozy had hidden offshore bank accounts.
The Socialists, whose hopes for next year's presidential election have soared
as the centre-right sinks into crisis, are charging that Villepin's divided
government is no longer fit to rule.
After months of social upheaval from the suburban riots of November to the
recent job law protests, the Clearstream affair confirms that it is time to
"turn the page on this regime of crises", the censure motion says.
"To vote the motion is to end the crisis," Socialist leader Francois Hollande
told Le Monde in an interview, calling on lawmakers from both the left and the
right to rally against "a government that has lost all credit".
With 354 out of 577 seats in the National Assembly, the UMP is certain to
defeat the motion, however, and some commentators have said it could even
provide a much-needed chance for the party to pull together.
The business daily Les Echos warned in an editorial that voters, few of whom
truly grasp the details of the tortuous affair risked simply writing off the
entire centre-right ahead of next year's elections.
"What the French do understand is that the right is tearing itself apart ...
that the country is not being governed properly and that their own problems are
being relegated to a back seat," it wrote.
A highly complex tale of espionage, defence deals and malicious libel, the
Clearstream affair became public in mid-2004 when a judge investigating illegal
commissions paid in the sale of warships to Taiwan received lists of alleged
account-holders at the Clearstream bank of Luxembourg.
The list turned out to be bogus, and Sarkozy, whose name appeared alongside
those of several other politicians and business leaders believes he was the
victim of a smear campaign ahead of the 2007 presidential