On March 25, the French Senate announced that it was taking legal action against the management consulting firm McKinsey. The investigation was led by Senator Eliane Assassi, a member of the Stalinist French Communist Party (PCF). McKinsey is accused of evading hundreds of millions of euros in taxes while advising the Macron government on COVID-19 policy, and of perjury, for lying about it to a Senate committee.
The report details massive financial corruption within the Macron government. It has awarded McKinsey €2.4 billion in consulting fees since 2018, including more than €1 billion in 2021. The actual total is likely higher, as the survey only polled most important sections of the administration. Despite a turnover of 329 million euros, McKinsey did not pay a cent in corporate tax in 2020.
The report said the government’s reliance on consultancies “has become a knee-jerk reaction” and that McKinsey and other firms were involved in “most of the major reforms” of the Macron government, including attacks on pensions, housing and unemployment benefits. While private consultancies, including McKinsey, have been used by previous French governments, Macron has massively expanded their use.
Perhaps most explosively, McKinsey advisers were said to have been at the heart of Macron’s pandemic policy and his refusal to implement basic social distancing measures to eliminate the circulation of the virus, even as more than 142,000 people died in France.
US-based McKinsey has annual revenue of $10 billion and offices in 65 countries. It charges governments and private companies exorbitant fees for “strategic management” advice, which usually leads to savage assaults on the working class. A Macron spokesperson inadvertently pointed to McKinsey’s parasitism, citing the fact that the UK government has paid the company 40 times more than the French government in recent years. McKinsey has gained particular notoriety for its role in the ongoing privatization of the British National Health Service.
Macron’s first response on Sunday was to deny any wrongdoing, insisting that “no contract is awarded in the Republic without respecting the rules of public procurement”. Speaking Monday in Dijon, he however distanced himself from the McKinsey affair, declaring: “It’s not me who signs the contracts”. On Wednesday, his spokesman pledged to cut external consultancy spending by 15%.
There are close ties between McKinsey and Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party. Paul Midy, deputy director of LREM, was a partner at McKinsey from 2007 to 2014. Mathieu Maucourt was project manager at McKinsey for three years before becoming political director of LREM and is now part of the State Secretariat. Etienne Lacourt was a member of the LREM management committee until 2018 before being hired as a partner by McKinsey.
There is no doubt that McKinsey’s tax evasion and advisory role to the Macron administration is criminal in nature. Moreover, it is clear that this has been an open secret in French government, judicial and media circles for some time. The Senate report, itself in preparation for more than four months, is put forward on the eve of the next presidential election.
As the first round of the presidential election, scheduled for April 10, approaches, rival candidates are criticizing Macron over the scandal, pointing to the close ties between the US-based multinational and Macron’s LREM.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen tweeted: “With Emmanuel Macron, McKinsey, who cost you 1 billion euros last year for very vague missions, will continue to gorge themselves on public money, not to pay taxes and lie in the Senate!” The candidate of insubordinate France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, reacted by affirming that “with me, the advisory groups will no longer exist”.
Republican (LR) candidate Valérie Pécresse said on Wednesday that “it seems that the government has something to hide”. Pécresse supporter Xavier Bertrand described the report’s findings as a “state scandal”, calling for an investigation into the state’s use of consultancies.
The rival candidates’ condemnations of Macron’s corrupt deals with McKinsey are utterly hypocritical. Candidate LR Pécresse worked alongside McKinsey consultants during her tenures as higher education minister and budget minister under former French president and convicted criminal Nicolas Sarkozy. Xavier Bertrand has also worked alongside McKinsey consultants.
LR’s eagerness to discredit Macron over a consultancy they are also linked to reflects their eagerness to rid themselves of their own popular association with endemic corruption. The corruption cases brought against Sarkozy, who was convicted of illegal wiretapping last year, and against LR 2017 presidential candidate Francois Fillon, are still fresh in public memory.
The candidates Jean-Luc Mélénchon of La France insoumise and Fabien Roussel, of the Stalinist PCF, have supported the pandemic policy advised by McKinsey and carried out by the French financial aristocracy since the start of the pandemic. This support has been crucial in imposing policies of mass infection and death on the working class, alongside a steady stream of bailouts to line the pockets of corporations and the super-rich.
The focus on McKinsey, which is just one of many thieving consultancies around the French government, underscores the cynical nature of this campaign. In reality, McKinsey accounts for only a small portion of French state spending in private consulting firms. According to the Senate report, from 2018 to 2020, 1% of state consulting spending went to McKinsey, 5% to Capgemini and 10% to Eurogroup.
Amid the scandal, reactionary anti-vaccine activists jumped on McKinsey’s relationship with Pfizer to decry any steps taken to stem the spread of the virus.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and business innovation director Aamir Malik are both former employees of McKinsey, which advised governments to buy Pfizer vaccines. McKinsey’s advice to buy vaccines was undoubtedly associated with criminal profit, which brought Pfizer alone some 30 billion euros in profits. Their main crime, however, was not to have advocated the use of life-saving vaccines, but to have collaborated with the French government in refusing to scientifically implement life-saving social distancing measures.
This whole sordid affair exposes both Macron, popularly dubbed “the president of the rich”, and his electoral rivals. All are complicit in the funneling of trillions of euros of public money into private hands that has occurred throughout Macron’s presidency, whether in stock market speculation, corporate bailouts or large government contracts. Under the cover of the pandemic, moreover, this accumulation of wealth has accelerated considerably.
In the final analysis, what the McKinsey scandal has exposed is not the personal corruption of a single man, party or consulting firm, but the corruption and parasitism of the entire capitalist class-dominated social order.