Rivals from across France’s political spectrum joined in a chorus of alarm and dismay Friday and warned that French democracy is in danger after an online leak of graphic sexual images led an associate of President Emmanuel Macron to pull out of the race for mayor of Paris.
Rapid expressions of support for Benjamin Griveaux were a striking reminder of the longstanding and widely held view in France that public servants’ private lives are largely off limits, especially what they do in private settings with consenting adults.
A Russian performance artist who accused Griveaux of lying to Paris voters and “big hypocrisy” claimed responsibility for sexually explicit posts that apparently prompted the candidate to end his bid for City Hall.
Politicians warned that using sex to shame a public figure represented an Americanization of French politics, a shift toward more puritanical standards.
“In France, morals have never been subjects to make a politician fall,” said Julien Aubert, a lawmaker from the rival Republicans party. “In the United States, the subject of morals is often used to bring down politicians.”
“We’re a country with 2,000 years of history of buttocks and wantonness,” he said in a phone interview. “A line has been crossed through social media, because no French media would ever have published this.”
Others warned that people will no longer want to stand for elected office if they run the risk of their private affairs becoming public, and that the leaking of sexually explicit material to take Griveaux out of next month’s municipal elections was a threat to France’s proud democratic traditions.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called for “respect for the private lives of people and of families” and said the affair “isn’t worthy of the democratic debate.” “We’re not trying to elect saints,” said Sebastien Chenu, a spokesman for the far-right National Rally party, normally an unforgiving political opponent of Griveaux’s centrist camp. Chenu was speaking on BFM-TV.