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Monday, December 01, 2014

Sarkozy wins back party leadership, but road to French presidential election remains very long

Nicolas Sarkozy took a further step on the road to his political comeback over the weekend, as he won back the leadership of France’s centre-right UMP party. The former French President secured 64.5% of votes in an online survey of UMP members, finishing well ahead of former Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire (29.2%) and outsider Hervé Mariton (6.3%).

Sarkozy was always going to win, but the outcome is most certainly below what he was hoping for. In 2004, he had sailed through the leadership election with over 85% of the vote. Still, he holds again the reins of his “political family” – to use his own words – and has already made at least two interesting announcements:
  • The UMP will change name before the next round of local elections in March 2015. 
  • He will set up a committee of former UMP prime ministers to help him manage the party – although the idea has reportedly not gone down particularly well with François Fillon, one of the former prime ministers supposed to sit on this committee. 
On this blog, we have noted how Sarkozy’s political comeback has the potential to really spice up the French debate over Europe. The former French President has this year repeatedly spoken of returning half of the EU’s powers to national governments. He also wants to scrap the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel area in its current form and replace it with a more selective ‘Schengen II’, which could only be joined by countries adopting the same immigration policies.

Sarkozy’s political strategy looks pretty clear: take a tougher, more ‘realist’ stance on Europe and immigration to stop the UMP losing voters to Marine Le Pen’s Front National. What is far from clear at this stage, though, is whether the new line will draw unanimous support from the rest of Sarkozy’s party.

Another important point to keep in mind is that the victory in Saturday’s party leadership poll does not automatically make Sarkozy the centre-right candidate for the 2017 French presidential election. A separate ‘primary election’ is due in 2016, when Sarkozy is going to face at least one much tougher rival: former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé.

How that duel will end is anyone’s guess, but recent opinion polls suggest that Juppé would have a better chance of victory in case of an ‘open primary’ – where members of smaller centrist parties can vote alongside with UMP members to elect a single centre-right presidential candidate. Sarkozy has so far spoken in favour of an ‘open primary’, although he looks reluctant to involve the Democratic Movement (MoDem) in the exercise. The centrist party led by François Bayrou actually endorsed François Hollande in the run-off of the 2012 presidential election against Sarkozy, and Bayrou has made no secret of his support for Juppé as the centre-right candidate in 2017.

Finally, Sarkozy remains (directly or indirectly) involved in a series of pending legal cases that may well dog his campaign.

The road to 2017 is still very long. 


jon livesey said...

It's interesting to see a trend that I have been predicting for a long time, coming to fruition. The EU itself is gradually becoming a toxic topic in the domestic politics of member states.

It's not happening at the same pace everywhere. It happened first in the UK, and in Germany it hardly seems to have begun at all, but the trend is towards the EU becoming the 'external enemy" that politicians run against when trying to gain favour, or to head off smaller anti-Eu parties.

Jesper said...

At a distance it looks like the French will get to choose between x,y,z. The selling arguments:

For x: At least I'm not y or z
For y: At least I'm not x or z
For z: At least I'm not x or y

I've seen similar situations and the outcome of an election when people vote for the least bad is usually very bad for the electorate. The least bad is rarely good enough for the situation.

Rollo said...

Does it really matter? Sarkosy and Hollande are both of the protectionist big government school, and what their policies will be, will be dictated by Germany and the Politburo, not by the French

christhai said...

Do you remember when Sarko was Merkel's pet monkey?

Do you recall Merkel campaigning with and for Sarkozy?

When both Sarkozy and Merkel spoke of France and Germany as "The Axis"?

It is getting more and more difficult to "sell" the EU in the nations of the EU.

Italians commonly, outspokenly don't want, "To be ruled by the Germans and their euro".

In Britain "EU" is toxic. It means corruption as a natural condition in high places - not an exception.

It means dangerous, undiplomatic talk of confrontation with Russia - nuclear armed Russia.

Sarkozy always was a political prostitute and today no less so.

But as the British public don't trust Cameron or Miliband to take them out of the EU - Cameron's adoption of UKIP Policies didn't impress anyone.

Sarkozy too - the French know they can buy the "Genuine Article" from le Pen not some hideous composite produced by Sarkozy.

Rik said...

Fully agree this has electioncampaign with toxic EU high on the agenda written all over it.
LePen is a serious candidate.
Basically 3 candidates with roughly equal chance to make it to the run off. All will be continueing-social (read pro-deficit) and anti-EU to avoid to be the one falling out. With LePen probably by far the most natural candidate to champion those points.

Rik said...

Preferred other candidate in the run off.

Sarkozy/Jup: LePen hoping the left will rather vote for him than for LePen.

Left (hard to see Hollande there, they are unlikely to make the run off with him as candidate, anyway most with a bit of profile have themselves linked with the Hollande disaster, which makes it very difficult to find a candidate. Tip might be to get a woman, probably as crap or worse than a man, but that will be found out first after the election): LePen hoping that the Sarkophiles will rather vote for him/her than LePen.

LePen: A lefty preferably Hollande or someone with a similar approval rating.

If there is no outright favorite (probably how it will be), both traditional candidates will have to attack each other and go for the undecided vote or potential not voters.
In that respect it is hard to see that issues where political class and electorate have very different opinions donot come up. The voters that will decide the first round and the run off have to be convinced in order to make it.

So a lot of anti-austerity, immigration, EU/Euro is more or less guaranteed.
The views will be clear on that:
-no cuts (as little as possible), -no structural reforms that will hit important voter groups, so no structural reforms),
-less especially semi-3rd world immigration,
-less EU,
-Francetype reforms in the EZ (the Germany pays ones).

Could be a killer for one of the traditionals when he/she is totally uncredible on these issues. With LePen having an advantage here.

Might also be very different in the run off (compared to the 1st round). Electorate might want to give the traditionals a clear yellow card, but might be more hesitant for the final step.