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Eugenia Obichkina

Doctor of History, Professor at MGIMO-University, RIAC expert

November 20 and 27, France’s right-wing republicans will hold their primaries intended both to determine the single candidate capable of winning the first elections round defeating the left-wing candidate, and to define the principal features of the candidate’s program that would address the sentiments of the greater part of the voters. Currently, France’s former prime minister Alain Juppé is ahead of the former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

November 20 and 27, France’s right-wing republicans will hold their primaries intended both to determine the single candidate capable of winning the first elections round defeating the left-wing candidate, and to define the principal features of the candidate’s program that would address the sentiments of the greater part of the voters. Currently, France’s former prime minister Alain Juppé is ahead of the former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Right-Wing Primaries: November 2016

It appears fairly obvious today that the second round of the 2017 presidential elections will be held because of Marine Le Pen’s “protest” voting. Up until now, the National Front’s candidates have been considered “unelectable” due to the overwhelming majority of the French voters’ commitment to the values of the democratic republic. Yet since the 2000s, these candidates have been capable of augmenting the usual 11–15% of votes of their staunch ideological supporters with the votes of the “protesting” electorate, i.e. those voters who thus demonstrate their disappointment with the political establishment’s policies. An extended recession is the principal reason for a potential increase in the numbers of such voters. Therefore, the first round will not be decided by resolute the right-wing or left-wing supporters, it will be decided by voters who oscillate between right, left, and extreme right. Under these circumstances, that republican candidate (not to be confuse with the Republicans, LR — Les Républicains) who goes on to the second voting round to compete against Le Pen will receive the support of the broadest “republican” front where the adherents of the republican values will form a united front against the National Front’s candidate, as it happened in 2002. Both parties need a candidate, capable of becoming such a conciliatory figure.

Since François Hollande, the principal left-wing figure, postponed his decision on running for the second term until January, the republicans are the first to announce the principal topics and candidates for the upcoming presidential elections of 2017. For the first time in France’s history, they decided to use American electoral technologies which allow to avoid scattering the right-wing votes between various parties and movements: they decided to hold their own primaries to determine the single right-wing republican candidate. Before the primaries, both right-wing and left-wing camps are scrutinizing their candidates searching for the one capable of getting the undecided vote.

French politicians Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet,
Nicolas Sarkozy and Jean-Frederic Poisson
attend the second prime-time televised debate for
the French conservative presidential primary in
Paris, France, November 3, 2016

On August 23, 2016, the day after Nicolas Sarkozy announced he would be running for president, BFM TV, one of France’s principal information channels, polled the French voters in a live broadcast on their choice between Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé. 29% favored Sarkozy, 67% favored Juppé. However, in the right-wing camp, the gap was not quite as impressive: 46% for Sarkozy vs. 53% for Juppé. When it comes to the left-wing camp, Sarkozy will have difficulties shedding his image of “the friend of the rich,” of an impulsive and brusque politician capable of ill-conceived actions such as the operation in Libya which crowned his presidential tenure. The Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a socialist, rephrased Sarkozy’s campaign slogan “Everything for France” saying that his program should be called “Everything for the rich” [1].

On August 28, Alain Juppé, who leads in the right-wing polls, announced he would be running for president. Unlike Sarkozy, he conducts this campaign under the unification (rassemblement) slogan. “Today’s France is characterized by diversity. But diversity should not divide the French,” Juppé said in an interview to Le Figaro. He pointed out a shining example of unity in diversity, the French Olympic team that won the greatest number of gold medals in history at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The team members were of various racial and ethnic origins, but they all defended the honor of France, their homeland [2]. Unlike the ex-president, Juppé comes across as a wise and moderate politician capable of reaching compromises. He began his campaign with its “three months to win” slogan two days after Sarkozy, which gave him a chance to gauge the latter’s chances and the voters’ reaction to his program [3].

Who goes on to the second voting round to compete against Le Pen will receive the support of the broadest “republican” front where the adherents of the republican values will form a united front against the National Front’s candidate, as it happened in 2002.

The polls looked promising for Juppé's campaign team. Even though 53% of right-wing supporters believed that Sarkozy’s campaign was off to a good start, a large number (47%) believed its start to be a failure [4]. Despite his harsh statements after the July terror attacks, his chances in first round of the elections had already dropped by 1%, and Sarkozy was head to head with Juppé who improved his chances by 1%. Victory in the elections was predicted by 33% for each of the candidates. However provisional these figures are, they demonstrate that Sarkozy’s harsh statements did not affect the voters. Ultimately, in the end of summer, 38% of those polled were going to vote for Juppé and only 24% for Sarkozy [5].

On September 11, 2016, Juppé gave a long interview to France 2 TV channel, where he said that he adheres to “right-wing views, but he is an open-minded person” who strives to “unite” both right-wing and center politicians and all those who were “disappointed in the Hollandisme and also those National Front voters who realize that the party’s program is a dead-end.” Hollande is the principal target for Juppé’s criticism. He called Hollande’s presidency “a shipwreck” [6].

Juppé has one serious “drawback” that could affect his ratings negatively. He is 71 years old. This is the “age of wisdom,” and he is in a great physical and mental shape, but the polls show that young voters do not want the generation of their “grandfathers” to rule the country for the next five years. As the rule that the young generation traditionally votes left has long since lost its relevance for France, the age factor could become a negative influence here.

For primaries, a right-wing candidate must obtain support of 5% of the “notables”: members of the party’s National council, deputies and councilpersons of all levels whom the voters elected to represent their interests in the elected bodies. These are members of parliament, mayors, members of regional or departmental councils. As regards voting at the primaries, the polling stations will be open “for all citizens.”

Before November 20 and 27 when the republican primaries will be held, the future single candidate must make the crucial choice between the clear-cut right-wing program intended to court the National Front’s votes, and the middle-of-the-road program capable of uniting as large a segment of the population disappointed in the left-wing rule as possible. This debate revealed a deep split within the right-wing camp relying on the Republicans (the new name of the Union for a Popular Movement established in 2002). On the one side there are uninhibited politicians who gave up on the political correctness of the previous decades and appropriated the topics previously deemed the domain of the National Front propaganda, such as immigration, security, Islam in France. 63% of those polled believe that Sarkozy’s program is reminiscent of the National Front’s program [7]. On the other side there are the those who tread the moderate line and strive to preserve the Union for a Popular Movement’s initial identity of a large liberal and democratic center-right party. This is the essence of the rivalry between the two principal candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé [8].

The future single candidate must make the crucial choice between the clear-cut right-wing program intended to court the National Front’s votes, and the middle-of-the-road program capable of uniting as large a segment of the population disappointed in the left-wing rule as possible.

On September 21, the list of the candidates was made public, and each candidate reflects a certain trend within the Republicans. Public debates that followed revealed the principal topics of the campaign: economy, immigration, terrorism [9].

The right wing is represented by two hardliners, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jean-François Copé, who take a particularly tough stance on immigrants. They propose to strictly limit immigration and to fight uncompromisingly the Muslim communitarianism (social insulation). They bank on the growing fear and intolerance spurred on by last year’s terrorist attacks. They strive to come across as tough charismatic leaders the country could rely on in a crisis; essentially, they reproduce the “Bonapartist” spirit of governance. Sarkozy is in favor of suspending family reunification and of compulsory assimilation of immigrants. On September 19, he said at a rally in Franconville, Val-d'Oise, “As soon as you become a citizen of France you acknowledge Galls as your ancestors” [10]. Jean-François Copé proposes to abolish the jus soli and to prohibit Muslim headscarves in all public places. They are both close to “Proud to be French” (the National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen’s slogan in his 2002 presidential campaign) and they both propose to abolish welfare payments for immigrants who live in France for less than 5 years.

REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

In contrast, moderates, such as Аlain Juppé and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, believe it “perilous to run after the National Front” and they propose a return to the spirit of the Union for a Popular Movement whose first president Alain Juppé was; the Union essentially established a strong union of the republican center right. Juppé accuses Sarkozy of proposing policies which could fracture the Union by alienating centrists and liberals. Both moderate candidates are more “open-minded” in their approach to the issue of immigration; both propose integration instead of assimilation, and both condemn Sarkozy’s “Islamophobic” and populist statements. They support decentralization in regional politics and are concerned about the environment thus courting the environmentalist vote.

François Fillon (former Prime Minister under President Sarkozy) and Hervé Mariton, a member of parliament the department of Drôme, represent the ultraliberals. Economically, they adhere to Margaret Thatcher-style policies and propose even harsher austerity measures. Fillon proposed to sharply (by 40 billion) decrease taxation of businesses, to save 100 billion on social payments and to increase the VAT by 2%. Mariton proposed saving 130 billion, abolishing several social guarantees for the working class and subsidized housing for the poor. In their social outlook, both candidates are confirmed conservatives who defend traditional family values. They promise to abolish the same-sex marriage law or to amend it in such a way as to prohibit such couples from adopting children. In this issue, Fillon and Mariton are close to Jean-Frédéric Poisson, the leader of the Christian Democrats (the Christian Democratic Party). Poisson, however, does not share their ultraliberal approaches to economy.

Bruno Le Maire attempts to propose a “third way” by being equidistant from both Sarkozy and Juppé. On the one hand, he supports assimilation of immigrants and a staunch war on terror. He says, “We will conduct a zero-tolerance policy.” On the other hand, he speaks in favor of the liberal society, in particular, he supports the same-sex marriage law. His spokesperson defined the image of Le Maire’s potential voters, “The Republican right who are proud of their values, but do not go to extremes” [11]. Economically, Le Maire proposes to abolish the 35-hour working week, to introduce wealth tax, and to raise the retirement age to 65 years.

Surveys conducted one month after the candidates made their electoral bids show Juppé’s confident lead. The survey asked who the people polled would vote for if the primaries were held next Sunday. These were the results. Juppé – 41%, Sarkozy – 30%, Fillon – 12%, Le Maire – 11%. Kosciusko-Morizet with 4% and Copé and Poisson with 1% each were the outsiders [12]. It is important that Аlain Juppé succeeded in securing support of influential senators and deputies, the “Republicans” allies from center right: The Radical Party and the Union of Democrats and Independents led by Jean-Christophe Lagarde [13].

Thus, the right-wing camp offered its voters a broad range of choices. The primaries will both determine the single candidate capable of winning the first elections round defeating the left-wing candidate, and define the principal features of the candidate’s program that would address the sentiments of the greater part of the voters.

1. BFM TV/ RMC, 25.08.16.

2. Le Figaro, 27.08.16.

3. BFM TV, 27.08.16.

4. Odoxa/ BFM TV, 27.08.16.

5. Pourquoi le candidat Sarkozy ne décole pas // Le Parisien, 27.08.16.

6. Alain Juppé tend la main aux «déçus du hollandisme» et du FN // Le Monde. fr avec AFP, 12.09.16.

7. BFM TV, 28.08.16.

8. Goar M. Sarkozy se pose en rassembleur à la clôture de l’université d’été du parti Les républicains // Le Monde, 04.09.16.

9. Sénécat A., Laurent S., Ferrer M., Vaudano M. Economie, immigration, terrorisme: les intox du débat de la primaire à droite // Le Monde, 14.10.16.

10. Goar M. Et Lemarié A. La guerre des droites est lancée // Le Monde, 21.09.16.

11. Lemarié A. Bruno Le Maire présente un projet présidentiel de ... 1000 pages // Le Monde, 21.09.16.

12. IPSOS-SOPRA STERIA, CEVIPOV et Le Monde in: Montvalon de J.-B. Primaire à droite: Alain Juppé consolide sa position de favori // Le Monde, 25.10.16.

13. Lemarié A., Goar M. Alain Juppé recueille le soutien des centristes de l’UDI pour les primaires de la droite // Le Monde, 13.10.16.

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