Could the McKinsey affair derail Macron’s campaign?

With its 361 pages, the report of the Senate commission of inquiry into the influence of consulting firms had the effect of a stone in the pond of the presidential campaign. The Senate speaks of a phenomenon “sprawling”and denounces a constant increase in the use of private practices during the mandate of Emmanuel Macron. Since 2018, the French State’s consulting expenditure has more than doubled, to exceed one billion euros in 2021.

At the top of the list of service providers, the American consulting firm McKinsey. Nicknamed “The Firm”, McKinsey was called upon for the reform of Personalized Housing Aid (APL), the management of the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular the organization of the vaccination campaign or even to prepare for the pension reform.

Missions that have a cost (3.88 million euros for the APL, 12.33 million for the health crisis), but not always concrete results. Commissioned to intervene with the National Old Age Insurance Fund (CNAV) as part of the pension reform in 2019 and 2020, McKinsey invoices its service for 957,674.20 euros. But the reform is finally postponed. Of this mission, there remains only one “Powerpoint presentation and a small 50-page notebook”, according to Eliane Assassi, the commission’s rapporteur.

(Re)see: Pandora Papers: hundreds of personalities practice tax evasion according to this massive data leak

The icing on the cake: McKinsey, which declares a turnover of 329 million euros in France for the year 2020, would not have paid corporate tax for 10 years. Suspected of tax optimization, the firm is currently the subject of a tax audit, ordered “before report” assures the Minister of the Economy Bruno Lemaire. But according to the Senate commission of inquiry, the verifications of Bercy would not have started until December, after the start of its work.

(Re) read: McKinsey: “no lessons to be learned” on the “fight against optimization”, judge Le Maire

McKinsey, symbol of political distrust?

The use of consulting firms by the public authorities is nothing new, but the abuses pointed out by the Senate are staining, in the midst of the presidential campaign. Millions of euros injected into reform projects that never materialized, or which give rise to reductions in aid for the most precarious, as was the case with the drop in APL: there is something to cringe, especially on social networks.​​

The controversy around McKinsey gives grain to grind at the heart of a flash campaign, without the possibility of debate with the president. On the left as on the right, the opposition immediately took up the case, castigating the use of private companies practicing tax optimization, and poorly spent public money.

But the Macron camp does not let itself be dismantled. The answer is offensive: guest of the program “Sunday in politics” on France 3, on March 27, the president denied the existence of “combine”. “If there is evidence of manipulation, let it go to the criminal court”, launched the Head of State, assuring that transparency was complete and that no contract had been made in the Republic “without respecting the rule of public procurement”.

The government’s strategy is ‘move around, there’s nothing to see’

An attitude that is reminiscent of the “Let them come get me” launched in the middle of the Benalla affair, named after the former bodyguard of the president, who had hit a demonstrator in the middle of the street, on May 1, 2018.

(Re) see: Benalla case: whose fault is it?

Perceived as bravado by the opposition, this response from the president is part of a process of minimization for Pierre Bréchon. “The government’s strategy today is ‘Move along, there’s nothing to see’explains the political scientist, professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Grenoble.

Emmanuel Macron “has trivialized the phenomenon. It’s a fairly reasonable strategy, because we can’t not respond: the president and all his supporters are obliged to respond, they are attacked. But in the face of the attack, the answer is to say that there was no illegality, that it is a non-subject.

A scandal that disrupts Emmanuel Macron’s campaign?

A “non-subject” which does not seem to worry the Macron camp. The president-candidate is leading the polls, with 28.5% of the voting intentions. “Even if there is discontent”the McKinsey affair will not be enough to shake Emmanuel Macron’s lead in the eyes of Pierre Bréchon.

“It’s a case that, basically, is not so troublesome for the president”, he tempers. “It moves some voices, but it especially reinforces the opinions of those who are already convinced.” And a possible legal component – ​​complaints have been filed against McKinsey and two other firms – remains too distant to threaten re-election.

(Re)read: Presidential: like a buoyant wind for Marine Le Pen

Because 8 days from the first round, Emmanuel Macron’s lead remains comfortable, even if the gap is closing with Marine Le Pen. “Often the candidates in 2, 3 or fourth position recover a little in the last weeks”explains Pierre Bréchon. “I think his problem is not that. Until then, Emmanuel Macron was especially afraid of Valérie Pécresse, but now he is on the logic ‘we must prepare for the second round’.

Faced with the rise of Marine Le Pen and then “that she appears to have the best chance of being in the second round, the strategy is going to be to hit hard and attack her program.”

Surfing the international market, right up to the legislative elections

The objective is clear: to recall that in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, “Madame Le Pen has a dangerous program”, and “the one who is the most reassuring, who has a strong position internationally, is the president”summarizes Pierre Bréchon. McKinsey is therefore far from being at the heart of presidential concerns.

Who will threaten the LREM candidates?

“Currently people know more who they are going to vote for in the second round than in the first”recalls the professor of political science: the McKinsey scandal may be in the news, but it should not overthrow the candidate Macron.

(Re) see: French presidential: “Emmanuel Macron wants to mark his difference with the other candidates”

At the time of the war in Ukraine, the international context takes a lot of place in the presidential election – much more than McKinsey. And this international context could even bring Emmanuel Macron to the June legislative elections. “What I know fundamentally is that the legislative elections have operated since 2002 as confirmation elections”insists Pierre Bréchon. “An elected candidate – and 2017 showed it again – has a good chance of having a parliamentary majority, because it is important to give him a chance to govern”.

(Re)see: presidential in France: does the left have a chance?

Faced with left-wing candidates (PS, LFI) poorly established in the territory and Republican deputies who should be shared between “the hard right which will remain in opposition, and the people who will switch to Macron”the political scientist seems skeptical: “Who is going to threaten the LREM candidates?” Apparently not McKinsey.

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