In the end it amounted to just a modest updating of government policy. On Wednesday morning the president's office at the Elysée had revealed that François Hollande would be making a – pre-recorded – television address to the nation in the wake of former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac's dramatic admission that he had lied to everyone about his secret Swiss bank account.
Shortly after noon the recording was broadcast, with President Hollande standing bolt upright and visibly angry as he delivered his brief message. “Jérôme Cahuzac has deceived the highest authorities, the head of state, the government, it's an unpardonable fault, it's an outrage committed against the Republic,” stated the president.
Then, in what one TV pundit described as a “re-writing of history”, François Hollande let it be known that it was he who had asked his budget minister to resign last month when a full-scale judicial investigation began into the Swiss bank account affair. This is at odds with the Elysée press release at the time which said that the president had “put an end to Jérôme Cahuzac’s functions, at his request".
The president then went on to deny any suggestion that he or his office had been aware of Cahuzac's likely guilt, noting he had simply let the judicial process pursue its course of action. This is despite the fact that last week the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné reported that the president had been informed at Christmas – three weeks after Mediapart broke the story – that the allegations were true. The information apparently came from the minister of the interior Manuel Valls whose officials had checked the authenticity of a crucial recording in which Cahuzac spoke of his secret account. “I declare, here, that Jérôme Cahuzac benefited from absolutely no protection other than that of the presumption of innocence,” said the president. “The justice system will pursue its work right to the end and in complete independence.”
Without going into great detail – one of the advantages of a recorded interview is that there are no annoying questions from journalists – the president announced measures he hoped would help achieve the “exemplary” Republic that he talked about creating when he was a candidate for the presidency.
One is a reform aimed at making the judiciary more independent, and which involves changes to the governing body for the judiciary, the Conseil supérieur de la magistrature (CSM). This modest proposal was first announced two weeks ago. President Hollande said this proposal would be voted on “by the summer...to give judges the means to act”.
A second announcement concerned new rules on the personal finances of MPs and ministers and whose aim was to “fight in a relentless manner” against conflicts of interests, with politicians being forced to publish their financial interests. This measure was first discussed two weeks ago during a Cabinet meeting. In any case, Cahuzac himself had signed a declaration swearing “on his honour” about the state of his financial interests when he became a minister last year, as did all other ministers. In hindsight, what value can one attach to these financial declarations?