The indictment of the former French Minister of Health Agnès Buzyn for her management of the start of the Covid-19 epidemic arouses deep unease in the French political class. “Witch hunt”, “dangerous precedent”, “paralysis of public authorities”, we hear. Politicians are worried about the possibility of seeing their decisions one day sanctioned by justice.
In France, a special body is responsible for prosecuting politicians in the exercise of their functions, the Court of Justice of the Republic. This CJR has received as less than 14,500 complaints related to the management of the epidemic. Most were dismissed, but an investigation was opened on the basis of about fifteen complaints. Several searches have been carried out over the past year.
Friday, Agnès Buzyn was indicted for “endangering the life of others” and placed under the status of assisted witness for “voluntary abstention from fighting a disaster”.
What does French justice blame the former minister for?
First, there are the contradictions of the minister who, in January 2020, publicly made reassuring remarks while she later admitted to being aware of the looming disaster. “Lhe risks of the spread of the coronavirus in the population are very low “, said Agnès Buzyn on January 24. However, she later admitted to having alerted the Elysee and Matignon in January on the potential danger of the coronavirus.
Agnès Buzyn left the government in mid-February to run for mayor of Paris without success. “When I left the ministry, I cried because I knew the tsunami wave was in front of us”, she then confided to the World.
Shortage of masks
Beyond the public minimization of the danger, the CJR investigates deficiencies in protective equipment. Just like Belgium, France had reduced its stock of mouth masks, regardless of official recommendations. The reserves had gone from 1.5 billion masks to a hundred million. And part of the masks available would not have been distributed to the population.
The Court aims “the lack of constitution of reserves of protective equipment, the lack of immediate and sufficient orders, the possible delays in decision-making in health matters”. Other indictments could follow on this subject: the current Minister of Health Olivier Veran and the former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe could be summoned.
So much so that the government majority expresses its solidarity with the former minister now indicted. “Agnès Buzyn did all she could and undoubtedly more to protect us in the face of the pandemic which was beginning. She has all my support and all my friendship”, tweet Roland Lescure, spokesperson for La République en Marche, the formation of President Macron.
“If the French consider that a government has acted insufficiently, has not obtained the expected results, has not taken the desired orientations: this is sanctioned within the framework of the elections. It cannot be resolved in court”, adds the deputy Aurore Berger, who fears “a dangerous precedent”.
“I don’t know of any other country, no precedent in which you have a member of the government who is questioned for the management of the crisis, continues his colleague Sacha Houlié. So, that you know that there are people who, by their explicit decisions, have been able to endanger their population “, citing Donald Trump and Jaïr Bolsonaro.
Prime Minister Jean Castex ended up intervening himself: “We must at all costs prevent paralysis lying in wait for the action of the public authorities when, on the contrary, we need decisions to face crises”.
In the opposition, some applauded the action of justice, such as Florian Philippot, leader of the Patriots and ex-number 2 of the National Front, who tweeted: “Now on to the next one!”.
Others show more reserve. Fabien Roussel, national secretary of the French Communist Party, believes on France Info that it is not “in the courts that we will solve the problems”.