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Transparency’s Diminishing Returns

Accountability and transparency requirements have improved democratic practices in many Western countries in recent decades. But defending personal privacy is still a valid objective, and maintaining secrecy in some domains, such as national security, diplomacy, and human rights, is essential.

PARIS – Transparency was a central theme in the 2017 French presidential election. Even before François Fillon of the conservative Les Républicains was reported to have paid his wife public funds for unperformed tasks, the eventual victor, Emmanuel Macron, had made transparency a central issue of his campaign.

It is thus ironic that four of Macron’s 15 initially selected cabinet members – including one of the president’s closest advisers – have been forced to resign following reports of alleged misconduct or misuse of public funds, even before any judicial ruling. A freshly appointed member of France’s Constitutional Council has also been forced to resign as well, after news reports alleging that he had employed his daughter in a fake job while serving in the Senate.

The French media have continued to investigate other potential scandals. But, for the time being, the recent series of mishaps seems to have ended. In accordance with his campaign promise, Macron has signed new government ethics rules into law. Under the “Act to Reestablish Confidence in Public Action,” public officials face a raft of new restrictions. They may no longer employ family members on their staff. They have been stripped of their lump-sum allowance for professional fees. And they are barred from using a “parliamentary reserve fund” to finance local initiatives.

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