For more than a month now, the McKinsey scandal—increasingly referred to as #McKinseyGate on social media—has been gaining momentum and is on the way to becoming a major issue in the French presidential election. Opponents of Emmanuel Macron believe that this is a genuine state scandal, and the mainstream media—which has long remained silent on the subject—is now seizing on it. All the ingredients are there to seriously destabilize his candidacy through his record as president: recourse to American consulting firms to the tune of several billion euros, tax evasion, favoritism, and conflicts of interest.
For the moment, the communication apparatus of the President of the French Republic has not yet delivered its response. When the story broke, the president’s entourage underestimated the affair, judging it “too complicated” to interest public opinion, according to Le Monde. Then, faced with growing public discontent, it was forced to provide answers. Questioned on the national channel France 3 on Sunday, March 27th, Emmanuel Macron played the provocateur, daring the hounding journalists: “If there is evidence of manipulation, let it go to criminal!”
A certain feverishness emerged from the interview. He tried to clear himself of any personal responsibility, explaining “I do not sign the contracts, you have to ask the question to the ministers.” But on a trip to the provinces in Dijon the next day, he tried to justify himself differently: “When you want to accelerate, to go very fast and very strong on a policy, it is sometimes necessary to have recourse to service providers outside the state.”
These clumsy attempts at answers were not enough to put out the fire. The accusation of conspiracy was quickly summoned by the president’s media team to try to discredit Emmanuel Macron’s opponents: “It’s a conspiracy mechanism: the facts are left out, people imply more than they hear,” argues one of his collaborators anonymously while answering questions from Le Figaro. It remains, however, difficult to label the thorough and documented senate report at the origin of the scandal as conspiratorial.
Emmanuel Macron tried to counter suspicions by calling on members of his government. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, for instance, tried to defend himself by highlighting the work of his administration against tax evasion, without success. In the rush, a press conference was organized on Wednesday evening, March 29th, by Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of Transformation and Public Service, and Olivier Dussopt, Minister of Action and Public Accounts, to affirm that the government had “nothing to hide.” The convening of such a press conference is extremely rare, all the more so in an election period when public speaking is subject to very strict rules. The government’s line of defense is organized around the trivialization of the facts: all European countries have recourse to these offices, and France rather less than its neighbors; in the end, decision-making is always the responsibility of the State, and not the consulting firms; the two ministers “promise” to reduce the use of consulting firms by 15% in the future—thus implicitly acknowledging that there is a problem.
The arguments have not yet convinced the opposition. Julien Odoul, one of Marine Le Pen’s spokesmen, speaks of a “state scandal.”
Éric Zemmour denounces the state’s wastefulness and announces that he will not use consulting firms in the future.
McKinseyGate could seriously weaken the candidate Emmanuel Macron. The massive use of consulting firms discredits his record as president, but also his program as a candidate. The weekly Marianne reveals that Emmanuel Macron’s electoral program for his own succession is a summary of recommendations made by McKinsey. The general director of La République En Marche (LREM) is also a former associate of McKinsey.
The senate has taken the decision to refer the matter to the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office—a French judicial body created in December 2013 to hunt down serious economic and financial crime. The institution is currently studying the senate report. The matter has also been referred to the courts on suspicion of perjury on the part of the McKinsey representative questioned by the senate committee three months ago: “Pursuant to Article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Senate has referred the matter to the courts on suspicion of perjury before the Committee of Inquiry into the Growing Influence of Consulting Firms on Public Policies,” the upper house said in a statement issued a week after the end of the committee’s work. An executive of a French subsidiary of McKinsey had assured that the firm paid corporate income tax in France.
While an article in the newspaper L’Humanité reports a possible new scandal about Emmanuel Macron’s underestimated wealth—which speculates on colossal funds tucked away in tax havens since his time at Rothschild—the sitting president has less than ten days to put out the fire. The suspicion of fraud has been running since 2017, but the relative discretion of the mainstream media on these subjects plays in the president’s favor.
According to the latest polls though, the gap is narrowing more and more between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron in the second round.
Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).