Intrigue in France as compelling as its politics


Parisians have been going online to watch the latest major public humiliation of a politician, writes Lara Marlowein Paris

THE MOST interesting news is often what French people discuss over their steak-frites and gros rouge. Take journalist Stéphane Guillon’s recent humiliation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, for example. Every Parisian I know has watched it on the internet.

Guillon has an early morning programme on France-Inter radio. He became famous overnight for ruthlessly mocking Strauss-Kahn’s womanising. (Last October, the IMF director admitted to having an affair with a Hungarian woman on his staff, Piroska Nagy.) Guillon chose the morning when Strauss-Kahn was waiting at France-Inter to do an on-the-air interview – his first in France since the scandal – to roast him.

“In a few minutes Dominique Strauss-Kahn will penetrate . . . this room,” Guillon began.

A camera in the waiting room showed Strauss-Kahn blanch. “Obviously, exceptional measures have been taken,” Guillon continued. “Female members of staff have been ordered to wear long, dark outfits, totally anti-sex. Leather, high heels and chic underwear have been forbidden.”

The woman assigned to greet Strauss-Kahn wore a burka, Guillon claimed. If a siren sounded, women were to head for the lifts and evacuate to other floors, “because we don’t want to have a bunch of women out on maternity leave in nine months”.

Don’t panic, Guillon said. “We’ll put bromide in his coffee. There will be two cameras: one on the guest, as usual, the other under the table . . .”

When he went on air a few minutes later, visibly shaken, Strauss-Kahn excoriated the méchanceté (nastiness) of certain radio commentators. The former socialist finance minister was considered a potential challenger in the next presidential election. Those few minutes on breakfast radio may have torpedoed his chances.

Strauss-Kahn’s former rival for the socialist presidential nomination, Ségolène Royal, is also in difficulty. Her trip to the West Indian island of Guadeloupe to attend the funeral of a trade unionist killed during unrest there backfired when the right-wing UMP accused her of exploiting Jacques Bino’s death for political advancement. She then headed for Marbella with a new paramour, whom Paris Match magazine identified as a Moroccan-born businessman named André Hadjez. Royal yesterday filed a lawsuit against Match demanding €50,000 for invasion of privacy.

The socialist first secretary Martine Aubry has finally brought Royal’s aides back into the party leadership, after their bitter power struggle. “Look! They’re talking!” said a Plantu cartoon of the two women sharing a meal. “Pass me the salt,” asks Ségolène. “I’d rather die,” mumbles Martine.

The socialists were quarrelling again yesterday over the agreement they made at the weekend on lists for the June European elections.

But Jack Lang, a socialist old-timer, was beaming at his press conference yesterday. Just off a plane from Havana, which he visited as President Nicolas Sarkozy’s special emissary, Lang called for an end to the US embargo on Cuba and praised the Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin for his recent declarations.

At 70, still with perma-tan, thick wavy hair and a crocodile smile, Lang shows no sign of losing his movie star-like popularity. He put in a dig against les anglo-saxons, saying that speakers of Latin languages constitute “a cultural counterweight that must be strengthened”. And he quashed critics of socialists who cede to Sarkozy’s charms, saying that Aubry supported his mission because “it was a question of national interest”.

They’ve hunkered down at the Élysée, waiting for the storm over the appointment of Sarkozy’s economic adviser, Francois Perol, to head France’s newly merged, second-largest bank to subside. Sarkozy claimed the ethics commission had approved the nomination, as reported in The Irish Timeson February 25th.

But the president of the commission subsequently contradicted Sarkozy, saying he’d expressed a personal opinion that in no way committed the commission. The president’s chief of staff referred to the fib as a “verbal short cut”.

But Le Monde’s investigation into the sewage controversy at Cap Nègre, on the Côte d’Azur, is the Sarkozy story most talked about at Paris dinners. It now transpires that last August, in the midst of crises in Georgia and Afghanistan, the president attended residents’ meetings to defend the desire of his mother-in-law, Marisa Bruni-Tedeschi, to switch from sceptic tanks to the municipal sewage system. Ms Bruni-Tedeschi owns a 14-bedroom, 14-bathroom castle in Cap Nègre.