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France Discovers Vetting

Both the French and American presidents have the power to appoint people of their choosing to thousands of public sector positions, starting with their cabinet. The difference in France, however, is that no vetting of their background is required.

Presidential nominations are not subject to any checks in France, whereas the equivalent appointments in the United States are generally preceded by an FBI examination of each candidate’s past. Many hopefuls are forced to withdraw their candidacy after it is revealed they paid a babysitter in undeclared cash, for example, or that, despite their nomination as ambassador, they are unable to name the capital of their destination when quizzed by the Senate. Of course, the U.S. system is not perfect, as demonstrated by the current controversy surrounding Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, accused of hiding his connections with Russia and Turkey.

It is now France’s turn to discover vetting, but post-appointment. Ministers currently in place are deciding to quit after the press or a whistleblower reveals they misappropriated public money. This so-called “moralization of political life” is progress, but it would be more effective to follow the American model and ensure any nomination was preceded by a hearing before the Senate. This was a project championed by presidents Jacques Chirac and François Hollande, although little came of it. However, the resignation on June 21 of the French Justice Minister, François Bayrou, (who was paradoxically tasked with presenting the bill on the moralization of political life), is an invitation to rework the system. The fact that Macron urgently appointed several new ministers on the same day may cause concern, but we can only hope their pasts are not checkered as the lack of vetting means we know little or nothing about them.

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