Sunday 19 November 2017

Blow for French President Hollande as top aide quits over conflict claims

French president Francois Hollande
French president Francois Hollande

A senior adviser to French President Francois Hollande quit on Friday over accusations of past conflict of interest linked to his work for pharmaceutical firms, adding to pressure on the unpopular Socialist leader weeks before European elections.

Aquilino Morelle, Hollande's chief communications adviser, speechwriter and a main political strategist, has denied investigative website Mediapart's report that he had failed to obtain clearance for lobbying work when he was an employee of the public health inspectorate.

The furore deals another blow to Hollande after heavy losses for his party in town hall elections at the end of March.

"Mr. Aquilino Morelle has offered his resignation to the president of the republic," an official from Hollande's office said.

With a jobless rate above 10 percent, Hollande's approval score is the lowest of any French leader in the last 50 years and polls suggest his Socialists could lose badly to opposition conservatives and the far-right National Front in May's European Parliament poll.

He is also facing mounting tension within his party over a 50-billion-euro package of budget cuts designed to help Paris meets its EU commitment to shrink France's public sector debt.

Morelle, 51, said in a Facebook post on Thursday that he had obtained authorisation from the IGAS public health inspection body in 2007 for outside work with firms in the drugs industry.

Socialist member of parliament Olivier Faure said of Morelle's resignation: "This is a wise decision."

Hours earlier, the head of France's Socialist Party said that Morelle would have no choice but to quit if he could not quickly provide a better explanation in his defence.


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