Embattled Emmanuel Macron rocked by rape investigation into female minister

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Chrysoula Zacharopoulou - Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images
Chrysoula Zacharopoulou - Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

French prosecutors on Wednesday launched an investigation into rape allegations against a minister in Emmanuel Macron’s government, compounding his political woes after he lost his parliamentary majority.

The rape allegations date back to when Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, secretary of state for development and Francophonie, worked as a gynaecologist.

French media reported that the allegations are linked to her professional activity.

One complaint was lodged on May 25 and the investigation opened two days later, while the second was made on June 16, prosecutors said.

Miss Zacharopoulou, 46, who was born in Greece, joined the government in May, having been a Euro MP for the previous three years. She reports to Catherine Colonna, the foreign minister.

The trained physician gained prominence in 2015 by campaigning for greater public awareness of endometriosis together with Julie Gayet, the actress who married Francois Hollande, the former French president, earlier this month.

She has also spoken out in favour of women’s reproductive rights.

Reuters reported that officials at the minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Miss Zacharopoulou is the second new Macron minister to face rape allegations after Damien Abad, minister for solidarity and the disabled, denied claims by two women that he raped them. He said he has no intention of resigning from the government.

The minister has a disorder called arthrogryposis, which affects all four of his limbs. He argued that this would have made it impossible for him to carry out such acts without assistance.

Prosecutors also investigated Gerald Darmanin, interior minister over a rape allegation filed in 2017. He denied any wrongdoing and prosecutors in January asked for the case to be dropped.

Adrien Quatennens shakes hands with Emmanuel Macron - Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
Adrien Quatennens shakes hands with Emmanuel Macron - Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

The rape investigation came as French opposition leaders slapped down Mr Macron’s proposal to create a cross-party “government of national unity” to avoid parliamentary deadlock after he failed to secure a majority in the legislative elections.

The president’s centrist alliance fell 44 seats short of a majority in France’s National Assembly as a new Left-Green coalition and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) made spectacular gains.

The impasse has cast doubt on Mr Macron’s reform plans – notably to raise the retirement age to 65 – in his second presidential term after his re-election in April and could hamper his international stature.

On Tuesday, the French president hosted rare talks at the Elysée Palace with opposition leaders, including Ms Le Pen, and rejected an offer from Élisabeth Borne, his embattled prime minister, to resign.

On Wednesday, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the head of the Left-wing Nupes alliance, sent Adrien Quatennens, a 32-year-old MP, to represent him - in a clear snub to the president.

Analysts have suggested the most viable solution to secure a majority would be a deal between Mr Macron’s centrist alliance, Together, and the Right-wing Republicans, or LR - a party on the wane but which still won 61 seats.

However, after talks on Tuesday Christian Jacob, the LR leader, ruled out any kind of “pact” with the “arrogant” French president. While it was against “blocking institutions”, he said his party would not be Mr Macron’s “spare wheel”.

Édouard Philippe, the former prime minister whose Horizons party is part of Mr Macron’s alliance, told BFM television late Tuesday that a “grand coalition” should now be formed.

But coming out of his tete-a-tete with the president, Fabien Roussel, the Communist chief whose party is in the Nupes alliance, said he had rejected Mr Macron’s idea of a “government of national unity” – a totally cross-party cabinet not seen since 1944, when Charles de Gaulle united ministers from across the political spectrum to rebuild the country.

“I told the president straight away: ‘There is such a climate of distrust regarding you that it’s not envisageable,’” he told France Info.

President Emmanuel Macron with Christian Jacob, head of the French conservative party Les Republicains (LR) at the Elysée Palace - Reuters
President Emmanuel Macron with Christian Jacob, head of the French conservative party Les Republicains (LR) at the Elysée Palace - Reuters

Manuel Bompard, an MP from Mr Mélenchon’s hard-Left France Unbowed – the biggest parliamentary group in the Nupes alliance – also ruled it out. “We have fought his politics. We will continue to fight it. We will not govern with him,” he said.

Speaking as she introduced new MPs at parliament on Wednesday, Ms Le Pen said the president had floated the same idea with her. “I don’t think the situation justifies it,” she said.

Julien Bayou, the leader of the Green EELV party, which is part of Nupes, said after his talks with Mr Macron on Wednesday that it would be in opposition. But the party would vote “according to the national interest” and put forward its own legislation on climate change.

Olivier Véran, the minister in charge of relations with parliament, told BFM on Wednesday that “all options” were on the table. The government could seek a majority either via a coalition or on a “bill by bill” basis with the help of the Right or Left, depending on the legislation.

There appeared to be confusion over whether that could extend to RN or France Unbowed. Mr Véran said it would not but other party members have been less categorical.

Mr Macron is still reportedly hopeful he can make deals with Conservative LR MPs. Former senior LR ministers who joined Mr Macron over the past five years are now trying to convince as many as possible of their ex-party colleagues to agree to a deal, a government source told Reuters.

“All those who know them well are at it,” the source said, adding that they expected cracks to appear behind the façade of unity on rejecting a coalition deal.

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