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Eugenia Obichkina

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

The results of the election for the new President of the leading center-right party – the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) – were announced in France on the evening of November 29, 2014. One-time French President (2007-2012) Nicolas Sarkozy gained 64.5 per cent of the vote of party members with a record turnout after a significant pause for tabulation.

The results of the election for the new President of the leading center-right party – the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) – were announced in France on the evening of November 29, 2014. One-time French President (2007-2012) Nicolas Sarkozy gained 64.5 per cent of the vote of party members with a record turnout after a significant pause for tabulation. It was a clear win, especially when compared with the outcome of the previous elections, in which Nicolas Sarkozy did not take part. During these contests, the two contenders François Fillon and Jean-François Copé virtually divided the vote, which led to a protracted crisis within the party as neither wanted to acknowledge his defeat.

However, when Sarkozy was first elected UMP leader in 2004, he scored 89.09 per cent of the vote, making that victory much more impressive. Preparing for these elections, Sarkozy said that 75 per cent would allow him to return to politics as a winner, 55 per cent would indicate that his return was not possible, and an average result of 65 per cent would demonstrate that he “still had work to do.” [1] Indeed, the position of party president and his election victory over two other contenders – Deputy Bruno Le Maire from the Euro Department, supported by about 60 deputies of the right-wing faction of the National Assembly, and the most liberal of the contestants Hervé Mariton – are strategically important, but they do not guarantee the successful nomination of Sarkozy as the candidate from the Republican right in the Presidential election in 2017.

The party’s candidate will be finally determined after the primary elections in 2016, i.e. in 18 months. Sarkozy’s fellow party member Alain Juppé [2] may well become his rival. At the insistence of A. Juppé and F. Fillon – Sarkozy’s two influential opponents in the UMP – the upcoming primary election will be open and held online. Apart from UMP members, the majority of whom are ready to support Sarkozy, all the supporters of the Republican right will be able to take part in the voting.

REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
The emergence of Alain Juppé as a strong
alternative candidate testifies to the great
political potential of the Republican right.
But the possibility of confrontation between
N. Sarkozy and A. Juppé threatens to split
the right before the elections

By insisting on open primaries, Alain Juppé supports a move towards uniting the wide range of right and center parties and movements, as the split in their forces may prevent them from getting to the second round of presidential elections in 2017. Nicolas Sarkozy is a controversial figure for Alain Juppé, since among center-right supporters (for example, from the Union for French Democracy – UDF) ready to join a pre-election coalition with UMP, an impressive group of voters have a particular dislike for the personality of the former French President. Thus, UDF leader François Bayrou has already expressed his respect for Alain Juppé, has but refused to support Nicolas Sarkozy.

The emergence of Alain Juppé as a strong alternative candidate testifies to the great political potential of the Republican right. But the possibility of confrontation between N. Sarkozy and A. Juppé threatens to split the right before the elections. Similar to 1995, when the members of one party – Jacques Chirac and Édouard Balladur – confronted each other in a bid for the presidency, the matter at issue is not ideological rivalry, but a standoff between two strong personalities, temperaments, each representing different styles in politics [3]. Alain Juppé is drawn to the center-right; he is known for his sober approach and a symbol of reasonableness and experience. For a long time, he served as mayor of the large and prosperous city of Bordeaux, and was Prime Minister during the early years of Jacques Chirac’s presidency (1995-1997).

Nicolas Sarkozy, with his explosive temper, over-the-top activity and ubiquity, has an important resource, namely the UMP party apparatus. The strength of Alain Juppé comes from moderate and liberal rightists, who want to see at a president-arbitrator and a man of wisdom as the leader of the country, that is, one quite different from the impulsive N. Sarkozy. Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy originally belonged to two different teams within the neo-Gaullist party: Sarkozy was a follower of Édouard Balladur, while Juppé was Chirac’s right hand man and took on the burden of responsibility during the financial scandal surrounding the misuse of funds in the City Hall of Paris, when it was headed by Jacques Chirac. Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy have known each other for more than 30 years, but have never been friends. Meanwhile, during the last years of Sarkozy’s presidency, they cooperated well enough: Alain Juppé was Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs and then Minister of Foreign and European Affairs in the government of François Fillon.

The emergence of Alain Juppé as a strong alternative candidate testifies to the great political potential of the Republican right. But the possibility of confrontation between N. Sarkozy and A. Juppé threatens to split the right before the elections.

The second set of factors that will shape the electoral chances of Nicolas Sarkozy are the degree of decline of the prestige of the socialists’ and the disintegration of the left-wing forces on the one hand and the growing popularity of the National Front on the other. The mounting success of the ultra right in recent years, especially amidst unfavorable economic conditions, are reminiscent of the dramatic intrigue surrounding the 2002 presidential elections, when National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen gained enough votes in the first round of voting to qualify him for the second round against President Jacques Chirac. A study of the public mood of voters supporting N. Sarkozy and his two rivals in the struggle for UMP presidency demonstrated that the gap between supporters of the Republican right and the ultra rightists of the National Front is narrowing. Their positions on the most sensitive issues are drifting closer.

Therefore, 86 per cent of Nicolas Sarkozy’s supporters – the same percentage as J.-M. Le Pen’s followers – believe that there are “too many immigrants” in France. Only 53 percent consider freedom the main principle, less than half (48 per cent) support France’s membership in the EU, and a slight majority (57 per cent) regards globalization as an opportunity for France, rather than a problem. Only 8 per cent have confidence in political parties, which is likely to mean that they are placing their hopes on the leader, on the personality, rather than on ideas or values. For 74 per cent, the ideological split between the left and the right is less important than the result of each side’s policies. It is noteworthy that among the supporters of the three candidates for the party presidency, those who voted for Nikolas Sarkozy are less politically conscious. Only 52 per cent of them recognize the priority of policy (for supporters of Bruno Le Maire and Hervé Mariton the corresponding figures are 69 and 72, respectively).

www.cer.org.uk
N. Sarkozy has banked on consolidating
the Franco-German core of the EU and
accelerating the political and economic
integration of France and Germany

Respondents’ attitude to the political opponents of UMP speaks for itself. Among Sarkozy’s supporters, 24 per cent “value” the liberal centrist François Bayrou, while 38 per cent consider Marine Le Pen a forceful personality. Nikolas Sarkozy is well aware of the sentiments of his voters. In his bid for the presidency in 2007, as well as shown by his actions as Minister of Interior, of Internal Security and Local Freedoms and as President, he made use of ideas and methods close to the ultra right. Over the last decade, the National Front has become an important factor in shaping the pre-election programs and political activities of the Republican right, who are trying to make their own program attractive to potential NF voters.

The political program with which Sarkozy is returning to the forefront of French politics is still defined very generally and, of course, will be modified to ensure a broad electoral base. So far the new/old UMP President has put forward a few bright ideas tuned in to sore points in public life that have stirred up fierce right-wing opposition to the policies of the Socialist government.

A law allowing same-sex marriage and adoption for LGBT couples, named after its initiator Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, has become one of the key issues of François Hollande’s program and is aimed at expanding civil liberties. Despite the fact that only 44 per cent of respondents among N. Sarkozy’s followers support same-sex marriage, he expressed his support for the idea of same-sex marriage and adoption for LGBT couples, but called for the abolition of the law and the replacement of it with a new text that would clearly and explicitly prohibit them from in vitro fertilization and surrogacy.

His opponents in the race for the UMP presidency share the view of the need to review this issue: most deputies representing the right wing opposed the adoption of the statute. Hervé Mariton spoke against same-sex marriage and adoption for LGBT couples, offering instead to introduce a “civil union” status equivalent to marriage, but without the right of adoption. Liberal Bruno Le Maire supported the idea of same-sex marriage but opposed surrogacy for female homosexual couples. The caution shown in this matter is due to political considerations: French society is wary of politicians who want to take away freedoms already gained.

A study of the public mood of voters supporting N. Sarkozy and his two rivals in the struggle for UMP presidency demonstrated that the gap between supporters of the Republican right and the ultra rightists of the National Front is narrowing.

There appears to be no controversy over economic policies: all the candidates agreed with the program offered by N. Sarkozy. It includes a reduction in public spending and the bureaucratic apparatus as well as the extension of the retirement age. The 35-hour working week that hampers economic growth cannot be extended, but during his first presidency, N. Sarkozy already set a course for encouraging the French to work more and earn more as well as for developing more flexible labor legislation. To achieve more efficient administration, N. Sarkozy proposes following the example of the private sector.

Foreign policy issues are usually not among the priorities when electing the leader of the opposition party. However, the problems of European integration are an exception, since the issue affects the very fabric of the French social and economic life. France is one of the major donors to the EU and has done much to overcome the Euro crisis. Since France has to comply with the binding Maastricht criteria of keeping deficits below 3 per cent, the government faces many difficulties when adopting a budget during the times of zero economic growth and a crisis in unemployment, which are causing serious dissatisfaction with the results of European integration. N. Sarkozy has banked on consolidating the Franco-German core of the EU and accelerating the political and economic integration of France and Germany, to be later joined by other states. This is a return to the old idea of variable-speed integration, which Jacques Chirac offered before the “big” EU enlargement. Another serious challenge is the uncontrolled and growing immigration from disadvantaged countries of the Mediterranean and Africa into France, as well as from Eastern Europe through neighboring countries in the Schengen zone. Nikolas Sarkozy has suggested that France withdraw from the Schengen zone and impose strict immigration quotas.

Prospects for the Russian-French relations should N. Sarkozy win in the upcoming presidential election cannot but interest Russia. Although for the moment we can only speculate, it appears that positive changes will largely depend on improvements in the international climate in Europe. It should be noted that the current crisis in Russia's relations with the West is due to a logic that runs counter to what Nicolas Sarkozy suggested when he called for “turning over the page of the Cold War with Russia.” Today, such a position enjoys little support in the French political class and the circles that shape public opinion.

1. http://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/2014/11/28/

2. Devecchio A. Primaire : quelles serons les règles du duel Sarkozy-Juppé ? // Le Figaro, 24/11/2014

3. Tabard G . Juppé/Sarkozy : vers un remake de la guerre Balladur/Chirac ? // Le Figaro, 01/12/2014

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