Juppé in UMP ‘farewell’ toast
3 February 2004
PARIS – Four days after his conviction on corruption charges, former French prime minister Alain Juppe, set to reveal Tuesday whether he is to quit politics, was given a lunchtime reception at the headquarters of his UMP party which insiders said had the atmosphere of a farewell.
A decision by Juppe to quit as president of France’s ruling centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) will leave a power vacuum that could split the party and threaten President Jacques Chirac’s rumoured ambitions to stand for a third term of office.
Juppe, 58, who has long been designated as President Jacques Chirac’s possible successor as the leading figure of the centre-right, came under pressure to step down after he was found guilty on Friday of illegal party funding and barred from elected office for 10 years.
The charges related to the payment of party workers out of Paris municipal funds while Chirac was mayor of the capital.
By launching an appeal he put the sentence on hold and kept his right to his mandates – mayor of the city of Bordeaux, member of parliament and president of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) – but commentators said his credibility had been gravely damaged.
Juppe was to reveal what he has decided during the course of the day, either in a statement to the media or in a televised broadcast on the evening news at 8:00 pm.
Insiders said the Tuesday lunchtime reception at the UMP headquarters was a highly emotional occasion, with several party members openly weeping.
“It was supposed to be a friendly drink with our president, but it was a real farewell drink,” said a party official.
A leading member of the party, Patrick Ollier, said he was sure Juppe was to announce his resignation at least from the presidency of the UMP.
“He is on the way out … You don’t go on TF1 (the main television channel) to announce that you are staying,” he said.
Observers said Juppe could announce his resignation from the UMP but his decision to stay on as a member of the National Assembly and mayor of the city of Bordeaux pending the appeal in a year’s time.
At a meeting of UMP deputies Tuesday morning at the National Assembly, he was given a standing ovation but gave them no hint about his decision.
On Monday Chirac, who has been Juppe’s political mentor for nearly 30 years, urged him to stay in politics in the hope of an acquittal on appeal, telling journalists he was a “political figure of exceptional quality, competence, humanity and honesty”.
“France needs men of his quality,” he insisted. The two men later dined together at Chirac’s official offices at the Elysee palace.
Juppe’s retirement from politics would open up a period of instability in the governing party just seven weeks ahead of important regional elections, commentators warned, with the ambitious interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, presented with a clear opportunity to make a bid for power.
Sarkozy has made no secret of his desire to take over from Chirac as representative of a new generation of centre-right politicians. But Chirac loyalists in the UMP would be expected to back an alternative candidate to replace Juppe – possibly Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
“If Alain Juppe leaves politics the whole political edifice constructed since President Chirac’s (2002) re-election will be laid to the ground,” said the pro-government Le Figaro newspaper.
“Deprived of the protective screen which Alain Juppe formed, the ruling party risks being forced into a crude and premature confrontation between Chirac and Sarkozy,” it said.
However the paper warned that if Juppe fails to step down the UMP can expect to be dogged by constant reminders that its leader has been convicted in a criminal court and declared ineligible for office, with the public eye inevitably drawn to Chirac’s own alleged role in the funding scandal.
Meanwhile confusion continued to reign over allegations by the judge who sentenced Juppe that her office had been bugged and her computers tampered with in the run-up to the verdict.
Three separate investigations have now been launched into the claims, which judge Catherine Pierce made in a national newspaper on Saturday. “We don’t know who was behind all this. We simply came to the conclusion that a lot of people wanted to know what would be our decision,” she said.
But Bernard Pages – the public prosecutor in the Paris suburb of Nanterre where the trial took place – expressed surprise that he had never been informed of Pierce’s claims, casting doubts over the reality of the “dirty tricks”.
Juppe was found guilty of organising the payment with municipal funds of seven members of Chirac’s Rally for the Republic (RPR) party – the UMP’s precursor – in the early 1990s, when the president was mayor of Paris and Juppe his financial director.
The trial was the closest the judicial authorities have come to investigating Chirac’s personal knowledge of the scam and revived calls for him to be prosecuted as well when he leaves office and loses his presidential immunity.
© Expatica France News with AFP
Subject: France news