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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scandals Shake Public Trust in French Leaders

Problems are piling up once more for French President Jacques Chirac and his embattled prime minister, Alain Jupp?. Take the highly embarrassing disclosures of an investigative journalist, Brigitte Vital-Durant, concerning the Paris municipal council and its housing policies.

The council owns more than 300 buildings in the French capital and for many years made a habit of leasing sumptuous apartments in them at cheap rents to members of the nation's political and cultural establishment. Jupp? himself was discovered last year to have benefited from this practice when he ran the council's accounts department, having ensconced himself and four members of his family in such apartments. What Vital-Durant has just revealed is that some of these premises belonged before World War II to Jews who were deported after the Nazi occupation of France. Indeed, one apartment originally in Jewish ownership is currently occupied by Chirac's brother-in-law.

The Paris council appears to have acquired the properties during and immediately after the war, but made little attempt to return the majority of them to their owners. Doubtless in many cases this was because the owners had died in Nazi concentration camps. But even when some survivors tried to reclaim their homes, not many were successful.

If certain rumors now doing the rounds in Paris are well-founded, the housing scandal may not be the only "affaire" to descend upon Chirac and Jupp? before the end of the year. The capital is buzzing with reports that a member of Chirac's inner political circle is to be unmasked as one of at least 180 French officials who spied for the former Soviet Union and its satellites.

It may seem strange that a politician from Chirac's Gaullist party, founded on conservative, patriotic principles, could have betrayed his country. But after Charles de Gaulle created the party, he gave it an anti-American, anti-NATO slant that attracted some nationalists of a socialist persuasion.

Of course, Chirac's opponents on the French left have their own spy scandals to worry about. A former head of French counter-intelligence said recently that former Warsaw Pact countries had identified Charles Hernu, who was France's defense minister from 1981 to 1985, as an agent for the Soviet bloc in the 1950s and 1960s. In a sense, however, that is history. Hernu is dead. The French public would rightly be more concerned to learn that a senior Gaullist still active in politics had once worked for France's adversaries.

Naturally, it may turn out that there is less to the espionage rumors than is currently being suggested. Chirac and Jupp? must certainly hope so, for it is hard to see how their popularity ratings, already at near-record lows, could go anywhere but down if their administration were to be hit by a spy scandal.

However, the central problem facing the two leaders remains economics. Official statistics show unemployment rising, with the rate at 12.6 percent of the workforce, or a staggering 3.1 million people.

Even if France returns to a healthy level of growth next year, unemployment is not expected to fall significantly. Yet Chirac is the man who won election last year partly due to his solemn pledge to make job creation his most urgent priority.

Public trust in Chirac and Jupp? is understandably low. It will be a miracle if they are able to turn round their fortunes before the next parliamentary elections due in early 1998.