Tuesday, January 31, 2017

French Presidential Elections: Fillon May Drop Out Paving The Way For Marine Le Pen, UN Braces As U.S. Detente With Russia Upsets Balance Of Power

French Presidential Election Crisis: Party Leaders Consider "Plan B" After Police Search Fillon Office

It is looking increasingly likely, that Francois Fillon who until recently was considered the favorite for the French presidential election in the April/May presidential election, may drop out leaving the frontrunner challenger spot to Marine Le Pen in limbo. 
Shortly after news broke that the presidential candidate may have paid out as much as 1 million euros to his wife and children - more than initially alleged - in an ever growing graft scandal, French police searched Francois Fillon's office in parliament as an inquiry into alleged fake work by his wife threatened his campaign and party leaders began to consider a 'Plan B' without him. Fillon had been favorite to win the presidency for the conservative Republicans party until a week ago, when it was reported that his wife Penelope had drawn hundreds of thousands of euros in pay from state funds without doing any work. 
Fillon on Tuesday declared that he was a victim of a ‘professional’ plot aimed at derailing his bid to become France’s next president. He only failed to mention Vladimir Putin and the farce would have been complete. 
“To my knowledge, in the history of the Fifth Republic, this situation has never occurred” he during a conference in Paris. “Never with less than three months to go before a presidential election has an operation of such magnitude and this professional been staged with the aim of getting rid of a candidate.” 
According to Reuters citing the latest opinion poll conducted on Tuesday, 76% of voters were not convinced of his professed innocence. With the inquiry gathering pace, party officials began to wonder whether, and how, they might replace him.

"The way things are going, I think we might have to quickly trigger a plan B," one lawmaker on condition of anonymity told Reuters.
"Plan B. Lots of people are thinking, reflecting and working on it but no one will speak openly about it," said another influential Republicans member of parliament.
Allegations of pay for fake work, published in satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, have cast a doubt on the squeaky-clean image that helped Fillon win his party's primary election over rivals who had faced legal issues in the past. In an amusing tangent, Reuters writes that "the inquiry into whether the hundreds of thousands of euros his wife received in salary was a misuse of taxpayer's money also highlights a key plank of his campaign - that the state spends too much and half a million public sector jobs should go." Almost as if a politician was... hypocritical.

What Reuters failed to add is that those "sickened" by Fillon's conduct may just end up voting for Le Pen, whose election would most likely be the final nail in the Eurozone's coffin.
Meanwhile, even though Fillon has said he would step down as presidential candidate should he be put under formal investigation, it is unclear how The Republicans would find a replacement for him. He was chosen last November in the party's first ever primary contest, so there is no precedent to look to if he quits with less than three months to go until the election. The scandal has coincided with the Socialist Party's choice last weekend of a hard-left figure, Benoit Hamon, as its presidential candidate - a move also seen as helping Macron.

President Donald Trump’s outreach to Russia is reverberating through the United Nations, where U.S. allies worry that a partnership between Washington and Moscow could undermine a historic balance of power dating to the early days of the Cold War.
For decades, the five veto-wielding members of the 15-nation Security Council have fallen into two camps -- France, the U.K. and the U.S., referred to as the P3, on one side and Russia and China on the other.
Just days into his presidency, Trump is upsetting all that.
The result could reshape the world body’s response on conflicts from Syria to Ukraine and its approach to thorny decisions such as whether to deploy peacekeepers or condemn a country for human-rights violations. While the five permanent members can always veto resolutions or decisions, they usually try to win majority support from other Security Council members for their cause instead. That’s where the new American president’s approach comes in.

Foreign diplomats “will be flying blind” with Trump, said Richard Gowan, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Many expect him to work more closely with Russia but are not sure how far this will go.”

Under President Barack Obama’s administration, the Russia-U.S. relationship soured to the point that the Security Council’s work was largely paralyzed. Samantha Power, Obama’s UN ambassador, and her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, feuded repeatedly over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria.

The UN is already bracing to be on defense because Haley is taking her seat with support from a president and a U.S. Congress furious over a Security Council resolution in December critical of Israel’s settlements policy.
The Obama administration’s unexpected decision to abstain from the resolution allowed it to pass, and U.S. lawmakers from both parties have fumed ever since. In her Jan. 18 confirmation hearing, Haley called the vote one of the body’s most “outrageous.” Members of Congress are proposing to cut or freeze funding for the UN as a result.
Asked about potential cuts in UN funding, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said last week that the president wants to be a “strong steward” of tax dollars. The U.S. provides about $8 billion a year in contributions to the UN through the State Department and other agencies, or about a fifth of the world body’s total budget of $40 billion.
On Jan. 4, new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Trump and had a “very positive discussion,” according to his spokesman. In one of his few tweets directed at the UN, Trump last month said, “The United Nations has such great potential, but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad.”
Haley’s biggest challenge is that she’s part of an administration that carries a deep distrust toward multilateral institutions like the UN, said Reva Goujon, an analyst at Stratfor, the geopolitical advisory company.

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