French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled Wednesday his first cabinet, which includes both veterans and newcomers from across the political spectrum. The 22-member cabinet, which was announced two days after the appointment of center-right Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, honors Macron’s campaign pledge to seek diversity and gender parity in his government—half of the cabinet members are political newcomers who have never before held public office, and half of them are women. Sylvie Goulard, the new defense minister, will be the only woman serving in the cabinet’s top five roles; the remaining female appointees will head the health, culture, labor, and higher education departments, among others. Macron’s cabinet also boasts political diversity. In addition to choosing center-right moderate Philippe for his prime minister, Macron chose two members of the outgoing Socialist government: Jean-Yves Le Drian, who will serve as minister of foreign affairs, and Annick Girardin, who will be the minister of France’s overseas territories. Veteran Socialist and Lyon Mayor Gérard Collomb will also join the government as interior minister. On the right, Macron picked conservatives Bruno Le Maire, who will serve as economy minister, and Tourcoing Mayor Gérald Darmanin, who will lead France’s department of public accounts. François Bayrou, a centrist and three-time presidential candidate, will serve as the minister of justice. With Macron’s cabinet selected, the government can now turn its attention to next month’s National Assembly election, during which voters will elect the members of France’s lower but more powerful house of parliament.
Establishment candidates and parties were scrutinized in elections this year in France and the Netherlands. Germans will choose their next chancellor in the fall.
A slate of populist parties across Europe have grown in strength since the global recession of 2008. That, coupled with the success of the Brexit movement in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., had, at one point, incumbents like German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the defensive. But victories for establishment candidates in closely watched Dutch and French elections have relieved European leaders and officials.
As European voters head to the polls, we’ll follow the developments—from the elections themselves to the populist candidates who will be competing in them.
All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Macron Unveils His Cabinet
France's Macron Appoints Center-Right Prime Minister
French President Emmanuel Macron has named Édouard Philippe, the center-right Le Havre mayor, his prime minister. The announcement Monday, the first official day of Macron’s presidency, could signal Macron’s attempts to appeal to more moderate voters ahead of France’s pivotal legislative elections next month and his attempts to govern away from France’s traditional left-right political divide. Philippe, 46, is widely regarded as a centrist, having supported former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, a moderate, in the Républicains party’s primary race over François Fillon, the eventual nominee. In the run-up to the elections, Philippe was skeptical of Macron’s electoral prospects as well as his political abilities. In addition to serving as Le Havre’s mayor, Philippe has served as a deputy representing Seine-Maritime's 7th constituency in the National Assembly since 2012. His ability to retain the premiership rests upon the results of next month’s election for the National Assembly, the country’s lower but more powerful house of parliament. The prime minister almost always comes from the party that controls the chamber. Recent polls project Philippe will have no trouble finding support: En Marche and the Républicains are expected to win the bulk of the seats in the 577-member chamber. The first round of the legislative election will take place on June 11.
Macron Wins the French Presidency
Voters handed independent candidate Emmanuel Macron a decisive victory in France’s presidential runoff over far-right leader Marine Le Pen, buoying Europe’s political establishment after populist movements threatened to derail the European experiment. The youngest president in French history, Macron won 66 percent of the vote, according to official results; Le Pen won just under 34 percent—slightly lower than polls had predicted. Turnout was markedly lower than previous elections, with a quarter of voters abstaining. Four million blank votes were cast. In her concession speech, Le Pen said the country had “chosen continuity” and vowed to renew her far-right National Front (FN) party “to form a new political force.” Though Le Pen did not succeed in her presidential bid, her performance marked the FN’s strongest showing in its 45-year history—one which promises to push the historically-fringe party into the political mainstream. While Le Pen’s defeat certainly marks a victory for the European Union, which she actively campaigned against, the bloc is not without reasons to worry. The circumstances that allowed anti-EU candidates like Le Pen to rise, including terrorism, unemployment, and immigration, have not gone away—something Macron acknowledged in his victory address, telling supporters: “I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that very many of you have also expressed. It’s my responsibility to hear them.” Macron’s electoral victory is only his first step in his efforts to govern. He now must turn to focus on next month’s parliamentary election, during which voters will return to the polls to elect members of the National Assembly, the country’s lower but more powerful house of parliament. He will be sworn in as president next Sunday.
New National Front Leader Quits Amid Holocaust Denial Allegations
Jean-François Jalkh will no longer serve as acting president of France’s far-right National Front (FN) party amid controversy over remarks he allegedly made denying Nazi Germany’s use of Zyklon B gas during the Holocaust. Jalkh’s resignation comes four days after he was named interim president of the FN by far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who announced she was stepping down from her role as party leader to focus on her presidential bid. Soon after his appointment, La Croix journalist Laurent de Boissieu resurfaced a 2005 interview in which Jalkh was quoted raising skepticism over the Nazis’s use of Zyklon B, a gas used to carry out mass exterminations. Louis Aliot, the FN vice president, told French broadcaster BFM that Jalkh felt there wasn’t “the necessary serenity for him to perform this interim role” and that he would defend himself against allegations of Holocaust denial—an act that is illegal in France. On Friday, Jalkh’s lawyers announced in a statement he would be seeking defamation charges against French newspaper Le Monde for an article titled, “Jean-François Jalkh, author of Holocaust denial, will not be president of the FN.” Steeve Briois, the mayor of Henin-Beaumont in northern France, will serve as interim FN president.
National Front Ally Convicted for Inciting Hatred Against Muslims
An ally of Marine Le Pen, the French presidential candidate for the far-right National Front (FN), was convicted Tuesday of inciting hatred against Muslims and fined 2,000 euros after he claimed his town had too many Muslim children in its schools. An investigation was launched against Robert Ménard, the FN-supported mayor of the southern town of Béziers, in 2015 after he claimed 91 percent of children in a classroom were Muslim, which he said was “obviously a problem.” The investigation also concerned a tweet he posted comparing a school from the 1970s to the present day, which he said supports the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that contends immigrants are replacing the traditional French population. Ménard’s remarks prompted outcry from politicians on both the left and the right who denounced him for illegally profiling French students. It’s against French law to collect census data that includes race, ethnicity, or religion, and the town of Béziers denied such files existed. Ménard defended his remarks and said he would appeal the decision, adding: “My job as mayor is to describe things, not to judge them.” Ménard’s conviction comes a day after Le Pen announced she was stepping down from her post as leader of the FN to focus on her presidential bid ahead—a move some speculate was aimed at distancing herself from the party’s racist image and appeal to a wider range of voters ahead of the May 7 runoff against Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist.
Macron Campaign Targeted by Russia-Linked Cyber Attacks
Emmanuel Macron’s independent bid for the French presidency has been the target of cyber attacks that some experts say are linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency. Feike Hacquebord, a researcher at security-research firm Trend Micro, told Reuters he found evidence that a pro-Kremlin hacking group dubbed “Pawn Storm” targeted the centrist candidate’s campaign using email phishing tactics similar to those used to target the Democratic National Committee during the American presidential election last year. France’s National Cybersecurity Agency (ANSSI) confirmed Macron’s campaign had been the target of cyberattacks, but declined to attribute them to Moscow. Macron’s campaign also confirmed the attacks, telling the Wall Street Journal that they “took measures to block access” once the phishing attempts were identified. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, denied the allegations Russia was trying to interfere in the presidential contest, telling reporters Monday: “What (hacking) groups? From where? Why Russia? This slightly reminds me of accusations from Washington, which have been left hanging in mid-air until now and do not do their authors any credit.” This is not the first time Russia has been accused of meddling in the French elections. In February, Macron accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the election to favor his far-right National Front opponent Marine Le Pen, a proponent of rapprochement with Russia who has called for lifting Western sanctions against Moscow. Both Macron and Le Pen will advance to the second round of the presidential election on may 7, which polls favor Macron to win.
Macron, Le Pen Advance to French Election Runoff
Updated at 12:39 p.m. ET
Independent candidate Emmanuel Macron won the first round of France’s presidential election Sunday with 24 percent of the vote, followed by far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, who finished second with 21.3 percent, according to official results. François Fillon, the center-right Republicans candidate, finished with 20 percent of the vote, followed closely by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate, who earned 19.6 percent. Benoît Hamon, the Socialist candidate, trailed with 6.4 percent. As the top-two vote-getters, Macron and Le Pen are now expected to advance to the May 7 runoff. Opinion polls predict Macron would win that contest, though the turnout in the second round could impact the outcome.
French Candidates Spar in Unprecedented Debate
French presidential candidates sparred over unemployment and the European Union in an unprecedented debate featuring all 11 contenders less than three weeks ahead of the first round of voting. Although the four-hour debate aimed to focus on unemployment, security, and each candidate’s vision for France’s social model, the discussion quickly waded into France’s role in the EU—a membership independent candidate Emmanuel Macron and center-right candidate François Fillon defended, but one the remaining candidates urged reworking or, in the case of far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Francois Asselineau, abandoning altogether. As The Guardian’s Kim Willsher noted, the wide range of candidates and their policy proposals demonstrated “the great fractures in French society,” from the anti-capitalist candidate Philippe Poutou on one end, to more centrist former ministers Macron and Fillon, all the way to far-right Le Pen. A post-debate snap poll found that 25 percent of debate viewers considered far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s performance to be the most convincing, followed by Macron with 21 percent, Fillon with 15 percent, and Le Pen with 11 percent. Macron and Le Pen are considered the front-runners most likely to advance to the second-round of voting on May 7.
You can watch the full debate here.
France's Ex-Socialist Prime Minister Valls Backs Independent Macron
Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls formally endorsed independent presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron Wednesday, marking the latest defection within the Socialist Party from its own candidate, Benoît Hamon. Valls, who resigned in December to launch his failed presidential bid, had previously pledged to support whoever became the Socialist Party’s candidate, prompting many within the party to criticize his endorsement of Macron as a betrayal. The move follows several other Socialist defections to Macron’s camp, including Jean-Yves Le Drian, the defense minister, and Thierry Braillard, the sports minister. Valls, who previously dismissed Macron as “populism-lite,” told French broadcaster BFM TV his decision “isn’t out of love for the candidate, it’s about being reasonable,” and added: “The superior interest of France is more important than the rules of a party, a primary, or a commission.” Macron thanked Valls for his endorsement, but reaffirmed that the former prime minister would not be part of his government, stressing that he instead seeks to “renew the faces” in French politics.
French Candidate François Fillon's Wife Charged in Fraud Investigation
Penelope Fillon, the wife of center-right presidential candidate François Fillon, was charged by French prosecutors Tuesday over a fake jobs scandal that has embroiled her husband’s campaign. The preliminary charges, which include embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds, and aggravated fraud, concern allegations that François Fillon paid Penelope and their two children nearly 1 million euros for parliamentary work they are alleged not to have performed. Her husband faced similar charges last week; both deny wrongdoing. François Fillon was previously considered the front-runner in this month’s presidential contest, though his favorability dropped after a preliminary inquiry into the scandal was launched in January. A Monday Ifop poll put Fillon in third place in the first round behind Emmanuel Macron, the independent candidate, and Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate, who are neck-and-neck.
Madame Le Pen Goes to Moscow
Marine Le Pen met Friday in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told the far-right National Front (FN) candidate that Russia had no intention of meddling in the French presidential election next month. “We know of course that the presidential campaign is in full swing in France now, by no means do we want to influence the current events,” Putin told Le Pen during a meeting at the Kremlin, adding: “But we reserve the right to talk to all the representatives from all the political forces of the country.” The National Front candidate was invited to visit Russian parliament by its foreign affairs committee head Leonid Slutsky, and her aides offered “no information” over whether she would meet the Russian president ahead of the visit. But after her meeting with Russian lawmakers, in which she reportedly reaffirmed her opposition to Western sanctions on Moscow, Le Pen disappeared from her anticipated press conference to attend instead an art exhibition at the Kremlin, where she met the Russian president. Though Le Pen’s far-right party received an 11-million euro (about $11.6 million) loan from the Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank in 2014 and reportedly asked Russia for another loan to finance her current presidential bid, FN deputy Florian Philippot told Franceinfo radio the party “will not have any funding from Russian banks, I can guarantee that 100 percent.”
The Dutch Election Results
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party (VVD) for Freedom and Democracy claimed a decisive victory in the Dutch elections Wednesday night after voters turned out in record numbers to hand the center-right party 33 of the Dutch parliament’s 150 seats, making it the single-largest party for its third consecutive year. Geert Wilders’s far-right Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) had a poorer-than-expected showing, carrying 20 seats—a five-seat increase from what it won in the last election, but fewer than the 30 seats Wilders had hoped to capture. The remaining seats were split among 11 other parties, with the centrist Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal progressive D66 Party capturing 19 seats each, and the Green-Left earning 14 (nearly quadrupling the number of seats it claimed in 2012). The Labour Party (PvdA), the VVD’s coalition partner, had a poor showing, slumping from 38 seats to nine.
Now, Rutte’s task will be to work with other party leaders to meet the 76-seat threshold to form a government. The process could take anywhere from several weeks to several months (it took 54 days to form a coalition in 2012), and the government could include as many as four or five political parties. Wilders’s PVV will likely be excluded from the coalition, as the VVD and most other mainstream parties have ruled out working with him.
For more on the Dutch election results, and what they may mean for upcoming European elections, here’s a reading list:
French Prosecutors Open Preliminary Investigation Into Vegas Event Attended by Emmanuel Macron
French prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation Monday into alleged favoritism over a January 2016 event hosted by the country’s economy ministry, which was led by then-minister and current independent presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. The allegations, which were raised last week by French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, concern an event hosted by the ministry’s Business France unit at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The unit allegedly chose French public-relations firm Havas to organize the event without seeking bids from other companies—a move that could be deemed favoritism. The event cost approximately 400,000 euros ($425,000). Michel Sapin, the current economy minister, called the move a “malfunction” by the unit organizing the event, and Business France acknowledged in a statement the decision was a “potential irregularity.” Though Macron was the main speaker at the event, the investigation does not target him specifically.
French Candidate François Fillon Placed Under Formal Fraud Investigation
François Fillon, the center-right French presidential candidate, was placed under a formal investigation by prosecutors Tuesday over his alleged misuse of public funds. The preliminary charges—which include suspicion of diverting public funds, complicity in misappropriating funds, and receiving funds and not declaring assets fully—were prompted by allegations Fillon paid his wife, Penelope, and two of their children nearly 1 million euros for parliamentary work they are alleged not to have performed. He was previously considered the front-runner in the French presidential race, though his candidacy was quickly embroiled by the scandal after a preliminary inquiry was launched in January. Fillon, who has denied wrongdoing and condemned the investigation as a “political assassination,” has since fallen in public opinion polls, with recent projections putting him at third place in the first round of the elections scheduled to take place in April, behind independent candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen. Fillon is expected to appear before a magistrate Wednesday. He has refused to withdraw from the race despite vowing to do so earlier in the campaign if charged.
Alain Juppé Says He Won't Replace François Fillon in the French Election
Former Prime Minister Alain Juppé reaffirmed Monday he will not stand as a candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election, dashing the hopes of some Republicans that the conservative party’s runner-up could replace scandal-ridden candidate François Fillon. “Throughout last week, I received many calls asking me to take over,” Juppé said. “I do not intend to engage in partisan bargaining or job bargaining. For a Gaullist, this is not the spirit of the presidential election.” His comments come days after several top Republican allies quit Fillon’s campaign, citing his refusal to step down despite the launch of a formal investigation into whether he misused public funds by paying his wife and their two children for parliamentary work they allegedly didn’t perform. Fillon condemned the accusations as a “political assassination,” and told supporters at a rally in Paris Sunday he is confident he will be cleared of the allegations—ones which have so far prompted more than 300 members of his own party to pull their support. Juppé, in his remarks Monday, criticized Fillon for wasting a chance at victory, noting the financial scandal embroiling his candidacy has brought the center-right candidate to a “dead end.” Indeed, recent polls show far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen winning the first round, only to lose to independent candidate Emmanuel Macron in the second.
Geert Wilders Resumes Campaigning After Expressing Concerns Over Security
Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders announced the resumption of his campaigning efforts Wednesday, less than a week after he suspended them due to concerns of a security breach. “The voters want to see us,” Wilders said in a statement posted to Twitter, adding: “The security risks will be kept at a minimum.” The populist Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) leader canceled public campaigning activities last week after it was discovered that a member of his security detail was arrested for allegedly leaking classified information to a Dutch-Moroccan gang—a breach Wilders, who is known for his anti-Moroccan and anti-Islam rhetoric, called “unacceptable.” The resumption of his campaigning efforts come two weeks ahead of the Dutch parliamentary elections, with polls showing Wilders’ PVV running neck-in-neck with the ruling center-left People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
Top Republican Ally Quits François Fillon's Campaign
A top ally of French presidential candidate François Fillon resigned from Fillon’s campaign Wednesday, just hours after the center-right candidate reaffirmed his refusal to quit the presidential race despite the financial scandal embroiling his candidacy. Bruno Le Maire, a former government minister and supporter of Fillon, cited in his resignation Fillon’s refusal to drop out despite the launch of a formal investigation into whether he misused public funds when he paid his wife and two children for parliamentary work they are alleged not to have performed. Though Fillon previously said he would bow out of the race if a formal investigation were launched, he walked back on the promise less than two weeks later. “I believe in keeping one's word. It is essential to the credibility of politics," Le Maire said in a statement. “I therefore resign from my functions as European and international affairs representative on Francois Fillon's campaign.” Other Republicans allies of Fillon—including Laure de La Raudière, Franck Riester, Yves Jégo, Alain Chrétien, and Arnaud Robinet—joined Le Maire, signaling waning support for Fillon by those within his own party. Fillon, who was once projected to beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the second round run-off, has lagged in the polls since the inquiry into his alleged misuse of funds began, and now runs in third place behind independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Formal Investigation Launched Into François Fillon's Money Scandal
French presidential candidate François Fillon will face a formal investigation over allegations the center-right Republican candidate misused public funds when he paid his wife and two children for parliamentary work they are alleged not to have performed, prosecutors announced Friday. The announcement comes a month after French authorities launched an inquiry into allegations raised by satirical weekly Canard Enchaine that Fillon had paid his wife, Penelope, and their two children nearly 1 million euros for jobs no one could corroborate them having. Fillon called the hiring of his family members “an error,” but denied he did anything illegal, condemning the allegations as a smear campaign. It’s worth noting it is not illegal for French parliamentarians to employ family members to their office, though it is if they did not do the job. Fillon said he would only drop out if a formal investigation were launched—comments he walked back on less than two weeks later. “The closer we get to the date of the election, the more scandalous it would be to deny the Right and the Centre of a candidate,” Fillon told Le Figaro. Indeed, if Fillon were to drop out of the race now, the Republicans would have less than a month to find a replacement. Recent polls put Fillon at third place in the first round, behind independent candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen.
Geert Wilders Suspends Campaigning Efforts Ahead of March Election
Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders announced Thursday his populist Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) would suspend campaigning efforts due to a security breach. A member of Wilders’ security detail was arrested this week for allegedly leaking classified details about Wilders—information some local media reports say was passed on to a Dutch-Moroccan gang. Wilders, who is known for his anti-Moroccan and anti-Islam rhetoric, called the breach “unacceptable” and said the party would continue to suspend public activities “until all facts in connection with the corruption investigation are known.” The decision comes less than a month ahead of the Netherland’s parliamentary elections, for which recent polls show a close race between Wilders’ PVV and the ruling center-left People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). The election is scheduled for March 15.
Marine Le Pen's Chief of Staff Charged in Alleged Misuse of Funds Investigation
Updated at 5:49 p.m. ET
Marine Le Pen’s chief of staff was charged with breach of trust Wednesday as part of an on-going investigation into allegations the far-right National Front leader misused European Union funds to pay her parliamentary assistants. French authorities detained and questioned Catherine Griset, Le Pen’s chief of staff, and Thierry Legier, Le Pen’s bodyguard, Wednesday—two days after police conducted a raid on the National Front’s party headquarters in Paris. Griset was arrested, while Legier was released. Earlier this month, the European Parliament demanded Le Pen repay the nearly 300,000 euros (approximately $323,700) she allegedly misused to pay her staff—charges Le Pen’s lawyers have condemned as “a media operation whose sole purpose is to try to disrupt the smooth running of the presidential election campaign and harm Marine Le Pen at the very moment when her candidacy is making a major breakthrough.” Indeed, Le Pen has consistently been projected to advance to the second round of voting in France’s presidential elections, in which she is expected to face either center-right candidate François Fillon or independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Marine Le Pen Says French Citizens Must Renounce Non-EU Dual Citizenship
Marine Le Pen, the French presidential candidate of the far-right National Front (FN) party, said citizens would have to renounce dual nationalities from non-EU countries if she is elected president, using French Jews with Israeli citizenship as an example. “Israel isn't a member of the European Union, and doesn't consider itself as such,” she said Thursday when asked in an interview with broadcaster France 2 if an exception would be made for French Jews. Le Pen added the rule would apply to French citizens who have dual nationality with any non-European countries—except Russia, which she called part of the “Europe of nations.” She added the rule would not lead to the expulsion of foreigners “as long as they respect French laws and values.” The FN has long opposed dual nationality, which Jean-Marie Le Pen, Le Pen’s father and former FN chief, likened to bigamy. The younger Le Pen has previously supported barring France’s Jewish community—the largest in Europe—from wearing yarmulkes in public spaces as part of a broader ban on wearing religious symbols in public, which Le Pen said would help “stamp out radical Islam in France.” French law already outlaws the wearing of religious symbols such as headscarves, crosses, and skull caps, in the country’s public schools.
Journalist Forcibly Removed by Security After Questioning Le Pen
Footage released by Quotidien, a French news program, shows one of its reporters being forcibly removed by security officials at the Palais des Congres convention center in Paris after asking Marine Le Pen, the National Front presidential candidate, a question. In the video, reporter Paul Larrouturou questions the far-right leader, who is surrounded by journalists, about allegations she allegedly misused European Parliament funds. But before Larrouturou finishes the question, he is abruptly pulled away by security officials and removed from the room. Larrouturou can be heard shouting “get off me” multiple times, and explaining that he has credentials to be there. The video ends with an altercation between the cameraman and the guards, who repeatedly push the camera out of the way.
It is unclear what took place before the video started recording, or if Le Pen even heard the question. David Rachline, a National Front official, tweeted Wednesday the party had nothing to do with the reporter’s dismissal, attributing the incident to the convention center’s security officials. The convention center reportedly denied the claim, adding its security officials were not present in the area. Larrouturou said the guards were following orders by the National Front.
Misuse of Money Allegations Mount Against French Presidential Candidates
A new report by French weekly newspaper Canard Enchaine Tuesday alleges François Fillon, the French presidential candidate, paid his wife and two of their children nearly 1 million euros for jobs they may not have held. The newspaper alleges Penelope Fillon, the Republican candidate’s wife, was paid 900,000 euros ($969,997) as a parliamentary aide, and that two of their children were paid 84,000 euros ($90,538) as parliamentary assistants. These latest allegations come as French authorities continue their investigation into whether Fillon misused public funds—an inquiry launched last week after Canard Enchaine accused Fillon of paying his wife 500,000 euros ($538,000) between 1998 and 2012 for a job the no one could allegedly corroborate her having. Fillon, who campaigned on a platform of cutting wasteful spending, condemned the report as a smear campaign. He, however, isn’t the only one facing questions about his actions this election. The European Parliament demanded Tuesday that Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate, return nearly 300,000 euros ($323,707) she allegedly misused to pay her staff; she was given a midnight deadline to return the money or face reductions from her parliamentary salary. Le Pen has thus far refused, and told Reuters the move is “a unilateral decision taken by political opponents ... without proof and without waiting for a judgement from the court action I have started." Fillon and Le Pen are favored to lead the polls in the first round of the presidential contest slated for April, pitting them against each other during the May run-off.
France Launches Investigation Into Presidential Candidate Fillon's Wife
French authorities launched an inquiry Wednesday into Penelope Fillon, the wife of former prime minister and presidential candidate François Fillon, for alleged misuse of public money. The investigation was launched in the aftermath of a report by Canard Enchaine, a satirical weekly newspaper, that Penelope Fillon was paid 500,000 euros ($538,000) between 1998 and 2012 for serving as a parliamentary aide. Although it is not illegal for French parliamentarians to employ family members to their office, the newspaper said it could find no one to corroborate that Penelope Fillon held such a role. François Fillon condemned the article Wednesday for showing “contempt and misogyny,” adding “the stink-bomb season has started.” The center-right Republican candidate is expected to make it to the second round of France’s upcoming presidential election, during which polls suggest he will face off against Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right. It’s unclear how the inquiry will affect Fillon, who has campaigned against wasteful public spending and vowed to slash as many as half a million civil-service jobs.
Netherlands Prime Minister: Those Who Don't Respect Dutch Customs Should 'Go Away'
Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on the country to defend Dutch values in an open letter Monday, urging anyone who doesn’t accept them to “behave normally, or go away.” The prime minister criticized those who “harass gays, or whistle at women in short skirts, or brand ordinary Dutch people racists,” but added the solution is not to “tar everyone with the same brush, or insult or expel whole groups.” The remarks, which come less than two months ahead of the country’s upcoming general elections, appear to be both an appeal to voters swayed by the far-right Dutch Freedom Party’s (PVV) anti-immigration stance, as well as a critique of PVV head Geert Wilders’ anti-Moroccan and anti-Islam rhetoric. Wilders, whose PVV narrowly leads Rutte’s liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) in latest polls, called Rutte’s message “deceiving.”