Paris people

Eric Woerth: Good cop or bad cop?

Presidents and ministers here reside in ancient palaces and grand "hôtels". Democracy is housed in royal splendour.

Imagine that the French Minister of Justice, for instance, is still holding office in the very same building (at Place Vendôme) where the great revolutionary Danton was the first democratic Justice Minister in history. And the Elysée palace, home to Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni nowadays, was once owned by Madame de Pompadour. So it could well be that some modern aspects of bling-bling and flashiness date further back than you might think.

There are exceptions though. Not long ago, if you had asked an average Parisian to name his or her favourite cabinet member, it would have been quite possible that he or she would answer: Eric Woerth. The bold man with the good eyes was considered a clean and sober politician, one of those trustworthy guys you want to run a country. Woerth meant no-nonsense and his name wasn’t linked to the bonfire of vanity but to straight work and stable virtues. He was the good cop, standing out. But then, rain started to fall.

Paris is a huge and shiny stage for actors and politicians

In early summer, Woerth, the minister of labour, solidarity and public services, came under heavy suspicion and even heavier pressure. He was accused of maneouvering his own wife into a top post at the consulting firm that oversees the fairytale riches of France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of l’Oréal.  He was accused of accepting and actively acquiring illegal party funding from Madame Bettencourt. He was accused of other things but above all he suddenly began to look like one of the bad cops. And that hurt.

Bad cop fights back

Woerth rejected all of this, he fought back. In many TV appearances he tried to falsify the accusations. In parliament he counter-attacked his opponents. Still, his reputation suffered, to say the least. The man from l’Oise region, the mayor of Chantilly, the ex-treasurer of his and Mr. Sarkozy’s party UMP lost his old air of goodness. Pictures showing him with industry bosses and other celebrities suddenly felt wrong. And the same is true for pictures showing him in the golden grandeur of his work place. Who is Eric Woerth? What’s his record? The thing is: he is no longer the man to answer those questions.Photos:
AFP Joel Saget