Sex scandals: Are French politicians really the worst?

The world of French politics has been sullied by sex scandals once again. Will lessons be learned this time?

Sex scandals: Are French politicians really the worst?
Michel Sapin, Denis Baupin and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Photo:AFP

Same old French politicians. Depressingly familiar. 

These words sum up many of the reactions by foreign observers to the news that two high profile French lawmakers, including the country’s finance minister, had become embroiled in the latest sexual harassment scandals to hit French politics.

Firstly deputy parliamentary speaker Denis Baupin was accused of sexual harassing a number of women over several years, after which police opened an official investigation.

For his part Baupin launched legal action against his accusers.

Then, clearly feeling the heat as the spotlight was shone on the shoddy behaviour of some of France’s political elite, the Finance Minister Michel Sapin issued a mea culpa.

The minister and close ally of President François Hollande admitted he had acted “inappropriately” towards a French journalist during a visit to Davos. He confessed that he “made a comment to a female journalist about her clothing while placing my hand on her back.”

The minister had actually been accused of twanging the elastic on the journalist’s knickers as she bent over to pick up a pen.

Sapin insisted there was “no sexist intent” although he was widely ridiculed given that only hours earlier he had vehemently denied the accusations and threatened to sue those who repeated them.

The two cases have sparked yet more scrutiny of France’s male politicians and the way they behave – or more to the point misbehave – towards women.

It appears that the change in culture that was meant to take place after all the soul searching following the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandals may not have come about as it was meant to have.

But while the shocking acts of the French politicians need to be condemned, is the country's political scene really infected by more sexist lecherous men than the world of politics in other countries?

Marie Allibert, the spokeswoman from French feminist organization Osez le Féminisme which is an outspoken critic of the actions of French politicians, believes France may not be worse than anywhere else.

“I don't think sexual harassment in politics is specific to France, there are affairs elsewhere in the western world too,” she told The Local.

“We live in a patriarchal, sexist world, in which sexual assault, harassment and rape are everywhere, on a daily basis. The difference is: we had DSK, and still, we did not learn from it.”

While other countries have had their fair share of political sex scandals it’s clear that France has problems. These problems were identified after the DSK scandal and have not been dealt with.

“Our political parties are still not doing enough to train their members to be respectful of women and of equality,” said Allibert. And our media still have not learned that they should not downplay sexual assaults, aggression, rape or even femicide,” she said.

So while the politicians themselves may not be more deviant than anywhere else, the problem is their antics remain hidden.

French political analyst Bruno Cautres believes it’s not just a case of the media downplaying sexual assaults by politicians, but more like avoiding them altogether.

Cautres, from France’s Center for Political Sciences Research believes the media in France do not hold their politicians to account enough and allow them to continue to work and act with a feeling of impunity.

“In France there is a lack of checks and controls on political life and we are not just talking about sexual harassment, but fraud and corruption as well,” Cautres told The Local.

“We saw that in the Cahuzac affair,” he added referring to the disgraced former Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac who admitted tax fraud.

As opposed to the Anglo media culture, dominated by the bloodthirsty tabloids, the French media still tends to leave the politicians private lives private.

If French politicians know they can pretty much do what they want privately without it ending up in headlines, it helps create a world where they feel untouchable by the media.

“In other countries there’s more control on politicians. The political class here feel a certain level of impunity,” said Cautres.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in France to make the politicians feel afraid of the media.

“It’s incredible that Michel Sapin did what he did to a journalist. He wasn’t scared. He just didn’t realise it was sexist.”

One of the explanations given for the media's attitude towards French politicians is that often journalists and politicians come from the same elite and study at the same elite universities.

Cautres also points out that the reality is that in France politics is still more of a male-dominated profession than in other countries.

“The world of French politics was for a long time a world only for men. The arrival of women on the scene is quite recent and so the old sexist stereotypes still persist,” he said.

Whether this week was the case of the same old French or not, it’s clear the world of French politics still has major work to do and it's unlikely we have seen the last sex scandal to rock French politics.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Revealed: What will you receive from France’s €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

The French parliament has finally passed a massive €65 billion package of measures aimed at helping French residents with the spiralling cost of living. Here's a rundown of the help on offer, who it's available to and when it comes into effect.

Revealed: What will you receive from France's €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

After three weeks of sometimes heated debate, France’s parliament has adopted its multi-part purchasing power package to help mitigate rising cost of living and inflation.

In total, parliament approved a budget of nearly €65 billion for the whole package. 

It includes a raft of measures including price shields, tax rebates and grants. Here’s what is included and who will benefit.

Electricity and gas The government has voted to extend the tariff shield on gas and electricity prices until the end of the year: this means that gas prices will continue to remain frozen and that price hikes for electricity prices will be capped at four percent. 

For who: This applies to everyone who has a gas or electricity account in France.

When: The price freeze is already in effect and will continue until at least December 31st.

Fuel subsidy – The government’s fuel rebate (on petrol/gasoline and diesel) will be increased from €0.18 per litre to €0.30 in September and October, and then in November and December it will fall to €0.10. 

For who: All drivers (including tourists) – this is applied automatically at all fuel stations in France

When: The €0.18 per litre rebate is already in place and remains until August 31st, and rises to €0.30 on September 1st.

Pensions – The index point for pensions will be raised by four percent.

Who: This covers anyone who receives a French pension – roughly 14 million people – it does not affect anyone who gets a pension from another country.

When: From September 9th. 

Abolishing the TV licence fee – The annual TV licence raised €3.7 billion a year for public broadcasting, with the majority having gone toward France Télévisions, but has now been scrapped. It was €138 per household. 

For who: Any household with a television. This equates to about 23 million households in France who will no longer have to pay this yearly tax.

When: The was due to be levied on November 15th, but this year no bills will be sent out.

Tripling the Macron bonus – The maximum annual bonus – which is exempt from income and social security taxes – will be tripled.

It is a one time, tax-free payout that can be given to workers by their employers – if they chose to. Companies will now be able to pay up to €3,000 to their employees (and up to €6,000 for those with a profit-sharing scheme).

Who: This pertains to salariés (employees) whose businesses choose to offer this bonus.

When: The bonus can be paid between August 1st and December 31st.

Rent cap – Rent increases will be limited to 3.5 percent per year for existing tenants. Some cities already have in place their own rent control schemes, but the 3.5 percent cap is nationwide.

Who – This affects anyone who already has a tenancy agreement for a property in France (and also affects all landlords who are banned from making big rent hikes).

When – The 3.5 percent cap concerns annual rent increases that fall between July 2022 and June 2023.

Housing allowance – Those who benefit from personalised assistance for housing (APL) will see that increased by 3.5 percent.

Who: This pertains to those who qualify for governmental financial assistance with rent. Typically, this means low-income households. If you are already on APL – around 3.5 million people – the increase will be automatic, if you think you might qualify, apply through your local CAF.

When: The increase comes in your next payment, with the increased rate backdated to July 1st 2022.

Social benefits – The RSA top-up benefit will be increased by four percent (local authorities, who deal with RSA, will receive €600 million to help them finance and allocate this increase). Additionally, those who benefit from the ‘prime d’activité‘ (activity bonus) will see that value raised by four percent as well.

Who: Unemployed people below the age of 25 can qualify for RSA – this pertains to about 1.9 million people in France. The activity bonus is available to low-income workers – about 4.3 million people.

When: Catch-up payments will be in place from August 18th to September 5th. On September 5th, the updated payment will begin to be paid out.

Student grants – An increase of 4 percent for student grants (bourses) for higher education

Who: Students under the age of 28 who qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants. These students must qualify as ‘financially precarious’ for the school year of 2022-2023.

When: September 2022

Back-to-school grants – Families who meet certain income requirements are eligible for an allowance to help cover back-to-school costs – that grant will increase by four percent this year. There will also be an extra €100 subsidy for eligible families (with an additional €50 per child) paid “to those who need it most” according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with RTL. 

Who: Low-income families with children. You can test your family’s eligibility on the website This aid will impact 10.8 million households.

When: The one time payment will be paid at the start of the school-year in September.

The option to convert overtime days into extra cash – This is encompassed in two measures: increasing the ceiling of tax exempt overtime hours to €7,500 and opening the possibility for companies to buy back RTT days from their employees.

Eligible employees covered by the 35-hour week agreement accrue time in lieu if they work overtime, known as RTT days. Currently this time is taken as extra vacation days, but now employees will have the option to forgo the time off and instead be paid extra.

Who: For the buying back of RTT days, this applies to employees (salariés) who have an RTT agreement with their company.

For the increased cap on non-taxed overtime work, this applies to a range of employees, such as those who have 35-hour per week contracts and have their employer request that they work overtime or those who work beyond their part-time contract amount. You can learn more about whether you have the ability to declare overtime hours HERE

When: The RTT days buyout will run from between January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2025. For employees eligible for tax-free overtime compensation, the ceiling of €7,500 will only be in place for the year 2022.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

Pay rise for public sector workers – public sector pay will get a four percent rise in the index.

Who: Anyone employed in France as a fonctionnaire (eg civil servants, teachers, librarians).

When: This will be retroactive to July 1st

Assistance for some self-employed workers – A reduction in health and maternity insurance contributions will be introduced for low-earning self-employed workers. “Microentrepreneurs” will also benefit from a reduction in their flat-rate contributions.

Who: Self-employed workers whose monthly income does not exceed 1.6 times the minimum wage and who are registered as ‘microentrepeneurs’

When: TBC

The biometric carte vitale –  The Senate introduced this into the purchasing power package, but it is not a benefit. It will involve the implementation of a biometric carte vitale health card to “fight against social fraud” by adding an electronic chip with biometric data on it to health insurance cards. You can read more HERE.

Who: Everyone who is registered in the French health system and has a carte vitale (about 60 million people)

When: Lawmakers will begin plans to implement the plans in Autumn 2022, but it’s not clearly exactly what form the rollout will take.

How much will these measures impact inflation?

Some measures will likely be more effective than others. For instance, the extension of the tariff shield and increase of the fuel rebate in the early fall is largely to thank for France’s inflation level being two points lower than the European average, according to INSEE.

On the other hand, the tripling of the ceiling for the (optional) Macron bonus will likely not make a large difference. This is because it will likely not be widely taken advantage of, as last year only 4 million French people received the optional bonus, with the approximate average of the bonus having been only €500.

The pension changes will impact about 14.8 million people in France. However, according to economist Christopher Dembik, the revalorsation values are based on actual inflation and not on inflation expectations. “These revaluation measures will be too weak by the time they will be implemented,” Dembik said to French daily Le Parisien.