The cut-price services from a businessman 'friend' that helped Macron's campaign

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According to election campaign accounts seen by Mediapart, the French events organisers GL Events gave Emmanuel Macron significant discounts on services it provided for his successful election campaign. The company run by Olivier Ginon, an ally of interior minister Gérard Collomb and currently very much in favour at the Elysée, claims these were normal business discounts available to everyone. Yet according to the information seen by Mediapart, conservative candidate François Fillon did not benefit from similarly advantageous rates from the same company. Antton Rouget reports.

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He is an ally of Gérard Collomb, formerly mayor of Lyon in eastern France and the current interior minister. But the influence of events company boss Olivier Ginon is now also said to be growing inside the Élysée itself under the presidency of Emmanuel Macron. The business is prospering too; the chief executive officer of France's leading events company, who was cited in the Panama Papers, hopes his group will top a billion euros in turnover this year.

But while Ginon's relationship with President Macron fascinates political observers, it has also caught the attention of the country's election campaign watchdog the Commission Nationale des Comptes de Campagnes et des Financements Politiques (CNCCFP). According to Mediapart's information, the CNCCFP has spotted some very large discounts, some “of an abnormally high percentage”, offered by the events firm to Macron's election campaign. During the election the company rented halls for which they own the concession in cities such as Paris, Lyon and Clermont-Ferrand in central France.

Lunch with some of France's top chefs at the Elysée on September 27th, 2017. Emmanuel Macron is sitting next to his 'friend' Olivier Ginon. Lunch with some of France's top chefs at the Elysée on September 27th, 2017. Emmanuel Macron is sitting next to his 'friend' Olivier Ginon.
The CNCCFP's report on the issue targets one bill in particular, involving the rent of equipment for a meeting on December 10th, 2016, at the Porte de Versailles hall in Paris. This bill had been abruptly cut by 9,000 euros from 39,490 euros to 29,663 euros. Other services were also cut by up to 30% or 50%. Some were even provided free of charge.

These cut-price deals date from the very start of the campaign, in the summer of 2016, at a time when Emmanuel Macron had not yet got money from the hundreds of large donors he eventually attracted. For example, on the eve of the political rally at the Maison de la Mutualité conference centre in Paris on July 12th, 2016, barely three months after the launch of Macron's En Marche! movement, the rental for the main room for the preparations was supposed to cost the campaign team 14,129 euros. But thanks to an unbeatable bargain - “Discount – 100%” as it was described - this line of expenditure was removed altogether (see below). It was a similar story the next day, the day of the meeting itself: a new discount cut the cost by nearly 15,000 euros – from 40,554 euros to 25,710 euros. This was a sizeable reduction, coming before donations started flowing into the new movement.

A section of the bill for GL Events services provided to the Macron campaign  at the Maison de la Mutualité in Paris. © Document Mediapart A section of the bill for GL Events services provided to the Macron campaign at the Maison de la Mutualité in Paris. © Document Mediapart
In September 2017 the CNCCFP approached Olivier Ginon's company about the reduced rates, which replied on October 17th that “the discounts … are in line with usual commercial negotiations with an events organiser”. Then on October 20th Emmanuel Macron's campaign accountant supported the events organiser by explaining that the special deals, like those offered by other companies, were “standard and regular with a view to building customer loyalty”. The CNCCFP was satisfied with these explanations.

However, are such discounts really so “habitual”, “standard” and “regular”? One other candidate in the presidential election was clearly not so lucky. GL Events invoices identified by Mediapart in the accounts of conservative candidate François Fillon show that he was not able to get such discounts when he hired halls at the Nice Acropolis in Nice on the Mediterranean coast or at the Eurexpo centre in Lyon. The Élysée did not initially respond to Mediapart's request for an interview on Emmanuel Macron's relationship with Ginon, who he said on September 27th, 2017, he considered to be his “friend” (even if on April 15th this year Macron declared, when asked about his links to businessman Bernard Arnault, “I have no friends … I am the president”.)

After Mediapart's article was first published in French the Élysée then got in touch to insist that the two men, Macron and Ginon, had “never met in private together”. The Élysée also noted that the prices paid for services during the election campaign had been negotiated by En Marche!'s events unit. “During the presidential campaign the movement managed to control the costs of different events thanks to an aggressive approach in commercial negotiations,” it said.

Gerard Collomb, now the interior minister, has said he did not intervene in the negotiations with the company run by Olivier Ginon. Ginon himself has written to Mediapart insisting that the services provided to the Macron campaign “were billed according to criteria common to all”. When asked why such discounts were not, however, evident in Fillon's accounts, he did not respond.

A summary of Emmanuel Macron's election campaign accounts. © Mediapart A summary of Emmanuel Macron's election campaign accounts. © Mediapart

In December 2016, in an email that emerged from the 'Macron Leaks' mass publishing of emails, another aspect of Olivier Ginon's company came to light: its use of so-called 'detached' or 'posted' workers. These are workers sent from one country to work temporarily in another country, a practice which, while legal, can be seen as avoiding the high cost of employing workers in certain countries. During its summer conference in 2015 the then ruling Socialist Party was embarrassed when it emerged that GL Events had sub-contracted some of its services for the event to a Romanian company.

In a message to three organisers of En Marche!'s presidential campaign the movement's director of legal affairs Marine Mathé warned them: “For reasons of image, it's also necessary to be vigilant about the possibility of French service providers using detached foreign workers (often in the context of sub-contracting. It's in no way illegal but often badly perceived in the media (cf the PS's [summer conference] and GL EVENTS's 10 Romanian staff, regularly detached). In this case we might consider the service producer sending a declaration that there are no detached workers (even sub-contracting).”

The involvement of GL Events in the Macron election campaign has also attracted attention in Lyon, where Olivier Ginon picked up some lucrative contracts from City Hall, run by the mayor of the day Gérard Collomb. Opposition city councillors from the conservative Les Républicains party have recently asked the regional public accounts watchdog to see if they can shed more light on what, if any, of Lyon's metropolitan council resources were used to help Macron as a candidate. In their sights is Gérard Collomb's organisation of a reception for Macron in Lyon in June 2016 while the latter was still a minister but had his eyes on the presidency and the former was still mayor. The event was run by the metropolitan authority with sound and lighting facilities rented from GL Events.

At the beginning of April this year, investigative magazine Le Canard Enchaîné also revealed that it was Ginon's company GL Events that hosted La République En Marche's conference on 18 November, 2017, at the Eurexpo building in Lyon, for which the company holds the concession. Ginon told the magazine his links with the president were entirely legitimate. “Given the size of our group, it's only to be expected that political leaders see me,” he said.

The links between Emmanuel Macron and the boss of GL Events go back several years. On April 24th, 2015, Macron, then economy minister, teamed up with ministerial colleagues Patrick Kinner, minister for cities, Thierry Braillard, minister for sport, and Matthias Fekl, minister for overseas trade, to create a 'strategic industry committee', the organisation of which was handed to Olivier Ginon (see photo below).

The ministerial team with Olivier Ginon, centre, at the launch of the strategic industry committee on April 24th, 2015. © sports.gouv.fr The ministerial team with Olivier Ginon, centre, at the launch of the strategic industry committee on April 24th, 2015. © sports.gouv.fr
The aim was to have a strategic industrial deal in place on the eve of the 2016 Euro 2016 football tournament in France and ahead of the formal bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The ministers bragged at the time about this market which “represents a turnover of 35 billion euros a year”. In 2016 GL Events picked up 130 million euros just from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and the company is also taking steps to make sure it does not miss out on the opportunities afforded by the successful Paris bid for the 2024 Games.

In the meantime GL Events is looking after its network. From March 27th to 30th this year all the key figures from the world of Macron visited 'Global Industrie', a business show that GL Events organises in Paris. The president himself got involved by welcoming 200 industrialists to the Élysée. “It's the first time in several years we've had so many politicians at an industrial show,” the director of Global Industrie, Sébastien Gillet, said at the time.

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  • The French version of this article can be found here.

English version by Michael Streeter

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