For the past eight days, Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has clumsily tried to justify the circumstances surrounding her Christmas vacation in Tunisia. She flew in on the private jet of an industrial magnate close to then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who at the time was busy attempting to forcefully squash the revolt of his own people.
It is now the turn of Frances Prime Minister, François Fillon, forced to confess that he took advantage of the transport and lodging offered by President Hosni Mubarak for a family holiday at a resort in Egypt.
The controversy that has ensued is both logical and legitimate. In each case, one of Frances most senior officials accepted perks and preferential treatment for their private use from regimes which, as history is revealing to us in this very moment, cared little about human rights and the futures of their people. In both cases, the interested parties like a number of their predecessors seem not to understand that these are unacceptable compromises of principle.
It comes down to the President of the Republic not immune himself from criticism in this regard to put out the fire. One cant help recommending to President Nicolas Sarkozy that he turn to the Ethics in Public Life report that was delivered to him on January 26. The report is one that he personally ordered in an attempt to turn the page on the Woerth-Bettencourt affair, a controversy of alleged influence peddling that has plagued Sarkozys center-right party since the summer.
Established under the authority of Jean-Marie Sauvé, vice president of the Conseil dEtat, this report both defines and fixes a very clear rule of what is a conflict of interest. It is defined as, an interference between a public service and the private interest of the person carrying out this mission. The rule simply requires not placing oneself in such a situation.
Worthwhile advice for everyone, including journalists who may be tempted to let that ethical line be blurred in their relations with those holding economic or political power. But it is even more critical for public officials. As Mr. Sauvé writes in his aptly named report to the president, the impartiality, objectivity and moral probity of government officials are decisive to guarantee not only a country with a rule of law, but more generally, the constitutional values of a functioning community that are the cornerstones of our Republic.
Must we then call for the resignation of the Foreign Minister, and even of her companion Patrick Ollier, himself Minister of Relations with Parliament, unfairly forgotten in the Tunisian Vacation Affair? And what about the prime minister?
In truth, such a move would change nothing in the appalling approach of the Sarkozy administration to leadership. Whatever he decides, until his mandate expires, the president will carry forward with him the kind of shameful behavior that is the antithesis of the Republic above reproach that he promised in 2007. He will personally bear the responsibility of having deepened the chasm of mistrust between the people and those who govern them.