France's Macron acts on pledge to clean up politics

PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron’s new government moved quickly on Monday to act on a campaign promise to tighten up on ethical standards in French politics after an election race marred by a embezzlement scandal.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron waits for a guest on the steps at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yoan Valat/Pool

Justice Minister Francois Bayrou held talks with leading anti-corruption organizations Transparency International and Anticor and with a Socialist lawmaker who is expert in the field as he gathered ideas for a new law to clean up politics in France, which has a long history of corruption scandals.

“We want this document to deal with all the questions which have been pending, unresolved, for so long ... That means we will perhaps shake up some habits,” Bayrou told reporters after the talks.

Macron, who beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen on May 7 to become president, pledged during the campaign to put forward a draft law on ethics in public life before the mid-June parliamentary elections.

The election campaign was jolted by allegations against conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who was placed under formal investigation in mid-campaign in March on suspicion of embezzling state funds.

Once the favorite, Fillon failed to reach the second round of the election after media disclosures that he had paid his wife Penelope and two children hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds for work they may not have carried out.

Under present practice, it is not illegal for French parliamentarians to employ a family member in their office and Fillon has denied any wrongdoing.

Le Pen also had legal woes, with French judges asking the European parliament to lift her parliamentary immunity from prosecution to allow further investigation into allegations she misused EU funds to pay for National Front party assistants.

Both the president and prime minister who ruled France in the mid-1990s, Jacques Chirac and Alain Juppe, were found guilty of misusing public funds.

They were convicted, Juppe in 2004 and Chirac in 2011 after retiring, of misusing public money to keep political allies on the payroll of Paris City Hall for jobs they did not do.

Macron, a centrist whose victory broke the decades-old grip of traditional right and left-wing parties on power in France, has said his new law will ban legislators from paying salaries to their relatives and make all their income liable to tax.

Socialist lawmaker Rene Dosiere gave Bayrou his proposals for a new ethics law, including stricter conditions to qualify as a political party to counter an explosion of small parties whose main goal is often to gather funds.

He also proposes making public the names of people who give more than 2,500 euros to politicians and to limit legislators to a maximum of three parliamentary terms. There is no current limit.

Le Pen criticized his idea to ban political parties from granting loans to their candidates at below market rates, calling it a “padlocking of political life”.

“It is the banks that will decide who has the right to be a candidate or not,” Le Pen said on franceinfo radio.

Le Pen complained during the campaign that banks were refusing to lend to the National Front.

Writing by Adrian Croft; Editing by Richard Balmforth