Inside story: the Constitutional Council, Balladur and the row over his election funds

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'All that work for this!'

The crucial day arrived in October 1995, when the chief investigator had to present his conclusions to the Constitutional Court at the rue Montpensier in Paris. He entered into the Council's large chamber and sat in front of the nine 'Sages', or 'wise men', as the Council's members are known, who were seated in a horseshoe around the table. They alone had the right to vote on the issue.

The investigator handed out his 'draft decision'. Most of the Council members had not had access to the file from the initial stages and so this was the first time they discovered that the rejection of Edouard Balladur's accounts was being recommended. In front of a very concerned Council, the senior civil servant stressed the dubious receipt of 10.25 million francs and the many 'omissions' in relation to expenditure. At the end the president Roland Dumas suggested to the investigator that he go and revise his work.

The reason was that the 'Sages', a majority of whom had been nominated by the Left, – felt it was unthinkable that they could follow the recommendation and reject the accounts. For one thing, they baulked at the idea of ruining a former prime minister. For another they compared Balladur's accounts with those of Jacques Chirac, whose expense declarations had also caused them enormous problems. Eventually Chirac's accounts had been papered over and approved, as in their view there was not enough of a legitimate reason to annul the election of a president of the Republic who had been in office for five months and who had been chosen by 16 million French voters. So when it came to the Balladur file, the Constitutional Council, beginning with Roland Dumas, believed it had no choice but to give a seal of approval.

However, the lead investigator on the Balladur accounts resisted. When he returned later in the day, he had certainly modified his report, but not enough for the Council's liking. He was sent away yet again. In the end the deposit of the 10.25 million francs was forgotten about, and the civil servant suggested bringing back into the accounts just six million francs of the extra expenditure. This brought the amount officially spent by the Balladur campaign to 89,776,119 francs. In other words just 223,881 francs below the legal limit of 90 million, a tiny margin of 0.25%. The expenses of Jacques Chirac had been agreed at 40,000 francs below the legal limit.

Ultimately, only Jacques Cheminade, a marginal candidate from the European Workers Party, had his accounts rejected, over an interest-free loan, providing the Constitutional Court with an opportunity for severerity. One of the investigators, as he left the Council's meeting room, was heard to say: "All that work for this!"

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