Royal Considered Favorite in French Election

France’s Socialist Party nominated Ségolène Royal for the Presidential election in April 2007, making her the first woman ever to win a major party’s primary. UMP, the largest conservative party, has yet to hold a primary, but now that Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy has officially thrown his hat in the ring, his primary victory is a foregone conclusion.

Now, Sarkozy has been a darling of the right ever since the riots in 2005, when he advocated an American-style law and order approach to the riots, and in particular promised to deport rioting immigrants. But most of the population is not composed of right-wing ideologues; Dominique Moisi explains at the Financial Times why he’s a polarizing candidate who will probably make Royal France’s first female President.

In the short time since Ségolène Royal’s triumphant victory in the Socialist party “primaries”, the mood in France has changed spectacularly. Previously, left and right both feared the other side would win next spring’s election; now the left is elated and the right apprehensive. The favourite topic is no longer who is going to win, but what Ms Royal’s first moves as president should be.


Ms Royal seems to have found a magic formula that reflects French society’s contradictions. Her unique strength is her ability to incarnate at the same time a radical rejection of traditional party politics, if not politics in general, with a soft interpretation of rupture – the notion of a decisive break with the past – as far as structural reforms are concerned.

In the debate about continuity and change that will be the key to the election, her formula is in direct contrast to that of her leading rightwing rival, Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr Sarkozy has been visibly at the centre of French politics for so long that it is difficult for a man who appears as the dual inheritor of François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac to present himself as a true departure from the traditional political system. The French are in a mood of rejection, if not punishment, and Mr Sarkozy is an “elephant” within the political system. By contrast, when it comes to the concept of rupture, Mr Sarkozy may sound too radical. His attempted rapprochement with George W. Bush’s US at a time when the American people were about to say “no” to the president’s Republican party in the mid-term elections was not well received by most French people.

While Britain’s first Prime Minister was a hardcore conservative, and Germany’s first Chancellor is a slightly gentle Thatcherite, France’s first President to be is more of a Blairite. She supports some planks of law and order conservatism, such as throwing delinquet youths into military-supervised reform schools. At the same time, she supports single-sex marriage, which is again similar to Blair’s approach (although he’s a religious fanatic, he’s the most pro-gay rights Prime Minister in British history). Hopefully, she’ll also share Blair’s political success, without doing something stupid like supporting a war against Iraq Iran.

Forbes is running an editorial trying to say that Royal won’t win because she’ll be seen as too short on substance. The thing is, she’s very much like (Bill) Clinton or Blair, whose policies were hailed as New Democratic/New Labour. Maybe the operative word in the “she has no substance” accusation is “she.” It won’t be the first time Forbes runs a disparagingly sexist article.

If Royal is anything like Clinton or Blair, she’ll have little difficulty retaining the support of traditional socialist interest groups, like unions, even as she advocates lengthening the workweek from 35 hours to 40. So far the social policy positions she’s explicitly right-wing on are media violence, juvenile delinquency, and Turkey’s EU bid. Support for Turkey’s EU bid in France is in the low 20s, and the only groups media censorship and abusing juvenile delinquents will piss off are the student movements everyone hates.

2 Responses to Royal Considered Favorite in French Election

  1. SLC says:

    Since Ms. Royal has 4 children out of wedlock, I suspect that she will be the subject of considerable opposition on that score. Of course the French are more lenient about those things then the Anglo-Saxons so she may win anyway. If there are more Muslim riots between now and the election, Sarcozy will win in a walk.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    Not necessarily. So far the not-married-to-her-partner thing is not hurting her, even though one of her primary opponents had no trouble asking “Who will stay home with the kids?”.

    And if there are more riots, it’s more likely than not that the French people will get pissed at the entire system and vote for the reformer over the insider’s insider.

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