The blood is reeking up my TV and my newspapers. Hervé Gaymard, Minister of State to the Finances of the French Republic, is bleeding, and the sharks are circling. Demands for his resignation are being drummed about—update: he has resigned.

The Scandal

The smear campaign began only a week ago, with the stunning "revelation" made by the satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné that Gaymard lived in a 600 square meter two-story apartment which was leased for him and his family by the French government for a whopping 14,000€ a month—clearly the main reason for our 44 billion deficit.

Quickly, insignificant revelation upon revelation piled on the headlines: Gaymard already owns a large flat, which he's loaning "to a friend;" this suffix is always included by every commentator, as if his loaning a condo to a friend was more incriminating than loaning it to a total stranger. Gaymard furthermore owns two houses. Conveniently maladroit quotes about his modest upbringing and lack of property were dug up—update: it turns out the quotes were misattributed by chic tabloid Paris Match; it didn't stop every other news outlet from repeating them without question.

Yes, this is causing a scandal. You're probably wondering if the French have more important things to worry about and the answer is, we do, we just like to pretend we don't. Gaymard has made amends, he and his family have moved to a smaller flat. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin issued a series of regulations on how big the flat of a Minister may be. Everyone is talking about a possible resignation anyway, but nobody took credit for the idea. It's just in the air.

Nevermind the fact that he has eight children and that the Minister's flat in the Ministry building is meant for a small family. Nevermind the fact that government members are expected to host cocktail parties in their home and that Gaymard therefore needed a large living area on top of the rooms for his children. Nevermind the fact that high ranking civil servants such as Prefects or Ambassadors live in posh mansions that run a much higher bill than Gaymard—and so they should, because part of their job is representing their government, and not having a comfortable lifestyle would be an embarrassment (it's certainly a convenient excuse, but a valid one nonetheless).

Nevermind these facts, because they certainly don't seem to bother the French press. One thing that's relaxing about them is that you don't have to wrap your brains around multiple points of view.

The whole affair is obviously a pretext. If it's not the living conditions, it's your military service record, getting blowjobs in the office, or, why the hell not, having illegally downloaded MP3s on your computer. The drill should be all too familiar to the public—it is not. So the question really isn't whether the scandal that broke out is manufactured to destroy Gaymard's political career, but why, and by whom?

The Campaign

Disinformation is the hobby of the public opinion era. It has the same goals as propaganda, but unlike propaganda, which doesn't hide its origins or its goals, it is a covert discipline which uses the intrinsic bias in all information to manipulate public opinion on a local or global scale.


Let's start with a little history: this is a question I like to ask to people, because the answer is so obvious, but almost nobody comes up with the right answer: what is the oldest institution of civil service in France? It's not diplomacy, it is not the military, not the police...

It's the tax service.

The contrôle général des finances (general control of the finances) was founded in the 13th century by King Saint Louis and still exists as the inspection générale des finances (general inspection of the finances), which is now a part of the Ministry of the Finances. It is unsurprisingly one of the most prestigious corps in all of the French civil service—but also one of its most deeply entrenched. This and a few other corps make up the high levels of the hierarchy inside the Ministry.

They are regarded with fear and trembling by other corps of the bureaucracy since they handle the accounts for the rest of the French State. They're the ones who have the money, so they're the ones who have the power. Nobody even has an idea of how much they're paid or how far their privileges extend. Plenty of tax money, lots of it cash, comes in and never comes out. The entire Ministry has been labelled "opaque" by French jurisdictions which have investigated, but nothing's been done about it. Nobody knows what is going on with the people who hold this crucial position—and it seems that nobody can do anything about them, either.

Jean Arthuis, who was Minister of the Finances in Lionel Jospin's left-wing cabinet, asked for a list of the 100 highest salaries of the Ministry of the Finances when he went into office in 1995. He did not get it. He asked again weeks later, nothing happened. He banged his fist on the table, asked for the list, got vague excuses. He grew angry, appealed to the rest of the cabinet and his Prime Minister, made threats. After months of this charade, he was handed a single sheet of paper. The note was handwritten and the paper was a special kind that can't be photocopied. Arthuis' boss, the Prime Minister of the French Republic, knew all too well who he was dealing with and got his gung-ho cabinet member to tone down, and the status quo was firmly maintained.

There is no question that the leaks which were turned into headlines and are threatening Gaymard's career came from the Ministry, as only they have access to this kind of information.


The status quo is maintained firmly and also quietly, because if what I'm saying is well known to those in the higher rungs of the ladder of the Ministry of the Finances, it never made its way to the newspapers which are now trumpeting for Gaymard's resignation.

Nicolas Sarkozy, if not the most effective, was certainly the loudest politician of the past few years. Before holding his current position as Chairman of the ruling centre-right wing UMP party he was Gaymard's predecessor at the Finances. He issued a lot of press releases, made the deficit jump, and certainly did nothing to disturb the bowels of the Ministry he headed.

On the other hand, Gaymard, who took office in November of last year, has already sacked the Secretary general of the Ministry and the Director general of the Tax Service. Once again, this did not make headlines even though it caused quite a stir in the higher strata of the entire French civil service. I'm more than ready to cheer him on, but even I who am always advocating radical measures toward civil service, find his behaviour reckless and am afraid he underestimated the adversary. Apparently, the people who work for him agree.


The French press is in a sorry state, and I'm not talking about the awful content. Or the one-sidedness. Or their readiness to engage in disinformation. All of these things are true and sad, but what is perhaps more serious, if only because it's a major cause of the aforementioned problems, is their terrible financial status.

The French don't read printed press much, and thus the printed press, which other news media simply echo, doesn't make money. We must be too busy lounging around in café terraces and acting snotty to foreigners I guess. Me, I don't read it because of what I'm about to tell you.

There is a section of the Ministry of Finances which has no official name and whose job is, quite simply, to give cash money to newspapers that need it. Just enough so that they won't go bankrupt, but a sufficiently low amount to keep them in the red, making them dependent on the Ministry.

I know it sounds like a scary conspiracy theory but this has been confirmed to me both by high ranking officials within the Ministry and journalists, some of them famous. I have witnessed the launch of books that denounced the excesses of the Ministry of Finances being sabotaged, with the well-publicized author being invited to all the right talk shows, and then all the invitations being cancelled at the last minute for no good reason. This has happened more than once. Talk to any serious French journalist for more than an hour and he'll tell you that if not him, his boss, or his boss's boss, takes orders; it's not even a secret.

It's unknown whether this system profits to the whole government, or if it's only used by the Ministry to keep its shady businesses away from the limelight; either way, it's still a pretty good incentive for the papers to trumpet a frivolous piece of dirt that the Ministry dug up against Gaymard. Many scandals were first "revealed" by Le Canard enchaîné and amplified by Le Monde, whose editing committee's willingness and effectiveness not only at participating in at start disinformation campaigns is the stuff of history books. It's just a classic scheme.

What now?

The news of Hervé Gaymard's resignation has dropped around the same time as this writeup was posted. For the record, here's what I speculated only a couple hours ago:

There can only be so many outcomes to the situation. Without a strong political will, and there is none in the Republic at this point, the bad apples of the Ministry won't be thrown out. They'll keep their money, their power, and their discretion.

I don't think this is a fight to the death between Gaymard and his Ministry. I may be overly optimistic but I think the scandal is too frivolous to cause Gaymard to resign, and whoever at the Ministry is leading the mutiny knows it. The government already gave up more than it should have, since Gaymard and his family have been made to move out from their old apartment into a smaller one.

What is most likely is that the campaign is only a warning shot, designed to scare the hell out of Gaymard to get him to go back on his bold actions and restore the precious status quo. Unless he has the courage to resign rather than accept defeat. But in that case, his departure will be in disgrace to the eyes of the world, and only a few will know the real reasons behind it.

It seems that the public pressure was too strong at the eve of the referendum on the European Constitution and that Gaymard was pressured by the Prime Minister to hand in his resignation. He is a really good man and was a really good policymaker. This whole affair stinks. I will make some calls to find out more about the circumstances of his resignation and update this node as fits.


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