Sunday, December 31, 2006

Royal shadows Chirac

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal made a presidential flourish tonight when, immediately following President Jacques Chirac's address to the nation, she released her own message by video on the internet. In the several minute clip, she told viewers that

"I want a new Republic which is at the service of the citizens, and is built with the people, and the life such as it is...There remains four months to build all that (yet) I have confidence because I believe in the collective intelligence of the French who want that which moves, that which changes, which is full of energy. I also have am full of energy and we together are going to build tomorrow."


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Swiss support for Royal


Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has gained new foreign support for her presidential run after newly elected President of the Swiss Confederation Micheline Calmy-Rey said that she was "very happy" that a female is running in France. Going even further, Calmy-Rey said that "one addresses to her the same criticisms as with me." I have no idea how this will run down in her native country, but as an uninformed observer, Calmy-Rey's statement seems somewhat of a weak attempt to portray herself as her own country's Segolene Royal, something that at least from appearances, she is clearly not.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sarkozy is last man standing


The close of the month also closes the opportunity to declare candidacy for the UMP, and as of now, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is the only man standing. He will not be properly nominated unitl mid-January, but after many, many years of waiting, Sarkozy will finally have his chance at the presidency. But even now, there exists the possibility that President Jacques Chirac's final legacy will be derailing the candidacy of his former protege.

Other party insiders claim that President Jacques Chirac, 74, may try to use her (Michele Alliot-Marie) as a last-ditch weapon to destroy Mr Sarkozy's dream of leading France. The two men have been deadly political foes, from within the same party, for years.

(...)

Patrick Jarreau, the chief leader editor for Le Monde newspaper, saw the hand of Mr Chirac in the defence minister's prevarication.

"The idea of having Michèle Alliot-Marie in reserve as a possible candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy outside the party, is the first sign that the president hasn't given up being involved in distributing the playing cards on the Right," he said.

However, he suggested that Mr Chirac, who is due to address the nation in his customary New Year speech today, might tacitly support Miss Royal at a later stage, and urge his supporters to vote for he

Some of Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie's friends suggested that by threatening her candidacy, Alliot-Marie is really negotiating to be Sarkozy's prime minister. Either way, this won't be a clean show.


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Royal criticizes Saddam's execution


Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has criticized the execution of Saddam Hussein today by the Iraqi government.

"I am opposed to the death penalty, this was for an abominable dictator...Moreover I question myself. What major repercussions will this have on a part of the Iraqi population, the images of this execution diffused over the whole world?...is to add humiliation to shame. It would not be necessary that the handling of these images ends up creating a feeling of solidarity with a dictator whose acts are definitively indefensible."

Royal expressed "an indefinable feeling of disgust" over the situation.

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Bayrou signs homeless pact

Francois Bayrou announced today that he had signed the charter of Children of Don Quixote, a group that is raising awareness for the homeless. Bayrou is the candidate for the centrist UDF party and is currently campaigning on the French island La Réunion near Madagascar. "Let us stop the blabla around these questions and make acts." Bayrou also mocked the promises made by UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy that there would be no more homeless in two years under his presidency, because the UMP had criticized Socialist Lionel Jospin in 2002 for promising no more homeless in five years.

Bayrou will be the third presidential candidate to sign the charter, trailing communists Marie-George Buffet and Olivier Besancenot. In addition, Francois Hollande, the romantic partner of candidate Segolene Royal and leader of the Socialist party, has also signed the measure.

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Chirac will stay silent

French President Jacques Chirac will stay silent on his wishes concerning the upcoming presidential election when he addresses the nation Sunday night. This leaves open any possibility, from supporting Sarkozy to making a bid himself.

"I always said that I will be determined during the first quarter of the year 2007. The wishes finishing in mid-January, it is probably a little early for me to say what I have the intention to do."

In other news, the Financial Times has an op-ed today with predictions for the coming year. Among them was that UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy will end up winning the election because he in an intuitive politician who most wants to win. Although they concede that he has lost momentum, they say that he is already reworking his message to better attack Royal.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Royal meets homeless

Tonight Socialist candidate Segolene Royal visited the Children of Don Quixote (Enfants de Don Quichotte), an organization that is trying to raise awareness of the homeless (abbreviated SDF in France) as the temperature falls. A member of the group described the meeting with Royal as "very constructive", and that "the next stage is a telephone call from Sarkozy." Apparently feeling quite cocky, the spokesman added that "I invite Jacques Chirac to give an opinion. Mr. President, study our charter...Chirac has a means of cancelling the social fracture."

The activist group is attempting to build a national consensus around its charter, which among other things "proposes to open the structures of lodging full-time and to create an offer of temporary residences and more social housing." Already several prominent politicians have signed the measure, and according to the group, Segolene Royal "felt favorable to a Marshall plan for the SDF", alluding to the US led reconstruction of Europe after WWII.

As this is rather difficult to politically be against, it is likely that both candidates will tie involve themselves at least indirectly with the group. The danger, of course, is that making too many committments before even being elected into office creates high expectations and constrained leaders. Sarkozy and Royal have each already signed French celebrity Nicolas Hulot's pact, which deals with protecting the environment. This is not to say that candidates shouldn't align themselves with outsiders when their views coincide, but cuddling too close to popular causes ends up looking utterly phoney and politically motivated if taken too far.

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Time runs out for voter registration


French citizens have until tomorrow morning, Saturday, December 30, to register to vote for the upcoming presidential election. Each side has been eager to sign up as many supporters as possible before the deadline, and have led voter registration drives over the past few days. Despite this, between 2 and 5 million French are still not registered, compared with 42 million who are. Last presidential election some 28.5 million French turned out to vote in the first round and 31 million in the second, representing 71.6% turnout according to Wikipedia. Last US presidential election some 122 million came to the polls, which is only a mere 55% of the voting-age population.

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Alliot-Marie out, then back in

After a month of speculation, and after withdrawing from the UMP presidential primary, the weekly magazine Challenges reported that Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has withdrawn from the entire race, thereby excluding the possibility of an independent candidacy. Yet no sooner had that been released on the internet, the Alliot-Marie camp stated that "We contradict categorically and formally (...) Michele Alliot-Marie will make known her decision from here at January 14." The magazine claims that their information was based on a telephone call between Alliot-Marie and Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday, but the staff of Alliot-Marie has denied that there ever was a conversation.

At this point Alliot-Marie seems to be digging herself into a deeper and deeper political hole. It is clear that she has little chance of winning the election and would just end up hurting Sarkozy, but it is hard to believe that she would continue this ambiguity if she wasn't running.

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Candidates vow to fight homelessness


An English daily from Qatar has a nice summary of an issue that is dominating the French airwaves, drawing in the current government as well as the presidential hopefuls.

With temperatures falling and France's 2007 presidential election moving closer, the plight of the homeless has dominated front pages and politicians from all main parties have promised more help for those without a roof over their heads.

(...)

Lobby group "The Children of Don Quixote" initiated the current debate when it set up dozens of red tents along Paris's Canal Saint Martin earlier this month, calling on Parisians to sleep out in the cold in solidarity.

The group wants authorities to open shelters 24 hours a day throughout the year and to build more social housing.

(...)

Francois Hollande, the leader of the opposition Socialists, said he supported many of the association's demands.

The Socialists' presidential frontrunner Segolene Royal has not made concrete promises on the issue, but said: "My priority is the fight against a high cost of living and economic insecurity."

Her likely conservative presidential challenger, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has vowed that no homeless person would have to sleep outside within two years of his taking office.


It's hard to doubt the sincerity of the two candidates, although their assertions are a bit humorous. Royal appears to be fighting against everything wrong in France, and yet she has never presented her battle plans. As for Sarkozy's comment that no homeless person would have to sleep outside, one can easily joke that he has a warmer place waiting for them: jail.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bayrou campaigns in Indian Ocean


UDF candidate Francois Bayrou is likely enjoying better whether than continental France. Today he arrived at La Réunion, a small French island off the coast of Madagascar, where he will be campaigning for the next three days. La Réunion is one of the 26 regions of France, and despite its rather isolated location, is home to 775,000 people. Bayrou may have more favorable weather down there, but the campaigning should prove more difficult. Despite receiving 6.84% of the overall vote in the 2002 presidential election, he won only 2.43% of La Réunion. But if Bayrou still wishes to upset the Sego/Sarko second round, he should not yet despair. Last election Jean-Marie Le Pen slipped into the second round with almost 17% of the vote, but he won a measley 3.81% of La Réunion.

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Candidates follow public against euro


According to a new survey, the French are increasingly turning against the common currency as they scapegoat it for their economic woes, and candidates are noticing.

The TNS-Sofres survey published on Wednesday (27 December) by Le Pelerin magazine showed 52 percent of respondents said giving up the franc for the euro has been "quite bad" or "very bad" for France, up from 45 percent three years ago in a similar survey.

Fifty-one percent of the 1000 participants in the telephone poll said the single currency has been mainly harmful for economic prospects while 94 percent were convinced the euro has fuelled inflation.

(...)

The presidential front-runners for next April's elections, Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, have both criticised the European Central Bank for harming economic growth with a series of interest rates increases.

The survey also had a more amusing tidbit, saying that 25% still think in francs as they shop, which is lower than many other European nations.

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Would Chirac sabotage Sarkozy

Romke at Frogsmoke posted a quick review of French President Jacques Chirac's time in office. The article he links to also holds several predictions on Chirac's future in the election.

On New Year's Eve, Jacques Chirac will almost certainly address the nation as president for the last time. Barring some national calamity or crisis before the elections in April and May, this will be the final chance for M. Chirac to speak to his "chers compatriotes" on live television and try to make some sense of the muddle of his 40 years in politics and the calamities of his nearly 12 years in the Elysée Palace.

Will he finally admit that, at 74 years old, and with absurdly low poll ratings, he has no chance of winning another term in office? Will he finally endorse the candidacy of his detested, former protégé Nicolas Sarkozy? Probably not. Not yet, anyway.

President Chirac is said to cling to a desperate belief that the French bourgeoisie might still turn to him to save France from Ségolène Royal, who is not only a socialist but (choc, horreur) a woman. In truth, if President Chirac decides to run again, it will mostly be to spite Sarkozy. A Chirac-Sarkozy civil war on the moderate right would turn the possibility of a President(e) Royal into a near certainty.


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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Le Pen stays mum on signatures

National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen has refused to reveal how close he is to gathering the 500 signatures of elected officials needed to be on the presidential ballot in April. He has hinted that he has at least 400, although he would need more than 500 to ensure against last minute changes.

Le Pen decried the law as being "made very especially, in particular against me" and said that it is very difficult "to collect these sponsorships of mayors when one is a candidate who does not have a municipal establishment like the majority of the four great parties." Although he may be struggling right now, it is difficult to imagine Le Pen not receiving the required number of signatures in the end, especially considering his strong poll numbers.

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Alliot-Marie drops out of UMP race


In an interview with the Sud Ouest paper, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has declared that she will will not seek the nomination of the UMP to be its presidential candidate, leaving the door wide open for Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I am not the candidate with the logistical and financial support of the UMP."

However, when asked whether she will run as an independent, Alliot-Marie was more cryptic:

"I will think of my candidature for the presidential election and will consult the members of my association,"Le Chêne", the members of Parliament and also the personalities (of the majority). Afterwards, I will say if I am or am not a candidate."


It is doubtful that she would end up taking this road, although such a candidacy would certainly add some uncertainty to the race. By splitting some of the right vote, Alliot-Marie could possibly open the way for a Royal v. Alliot-Marie runoff. Just as likely, however, would be Royal v. Le Pen: deja vu all over again.

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Real or Staged, interviews with candidates

Le Monde has good overview of how Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy have been imposing rules for many of their television appearances, including choosing who they will be questioned/debated by.

Is it normal that a candidate chooses his debators? "According to the topics approached, it appears comprehensible to to me that there are interlocutors with whom my guest wants or not to discuss", Serge Moati affirms. But the producer recognizes that "each one has multiple concerns today: to approach such or such topic, to discuss with one, to avoid being attacked too much by the other, to accept only interlocutors "of a certain level" ". For as much, it underlines, the very great care taken by its guests to prevent Ségolène Royal "from being challenged without care by Jean-Louis Bourlanges".

It does not prevent, the channels yield more and more with the rules enacted by the two favourites of the polls. "The debates of today incarnent perfectly the political and media culture French", underlines Mickaël Darmon, political journalist in France 2. "One remains thus in a system of dubbing, very framed."


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Royal spokesman claims unity


Julien Dray, the spokesman for the French Socialist Party, has given an interview with Parisien/Aujourd'hui en France addressing the unity of the party. According to him, both Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the two candidates who lost the primary to Segolene Royal, will be making contributions to the campaign, and that the politicians who supported them will be solicited as well. Dray also noted that after Royal's trip to China in the beginning of January, she "will be completely invested in the campaign in the national territory." I wonder if this is simply reassurance that Royal will not make a fool of herself traipsing around the world throughout the campaign, or another indication that the US trip is on hold.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Royal's forgotten books


Le Figaro is running an interesting article that describes several books by Segolene Royal which have yet to be completed. Apparently during the precampaign, Royal said that she would be write a book that collected the ideas of the many visitors to her website desirsdavenir.org. Accoring to her, she would post a new chapter online every 15 days. Time tells a different story... The first chapter was posted on March 24, 2006, followed almost six months later by the second chapter on September 10. Even though the ensuing chapter titles were announced, no update has been posted since. When questioned on the matter, one of Royal's campaign directors simply said "I don't know". The article goes on to describe some contracts Royal signed with regard to a published version, but it looks like these have just been pushed back too.

Royal signed one more deal this past April, which would transcript discussions she would have with a prominent female magazine writer. The target date for publication was January 2007, but now that is clearly not a possibility. Segolene fans should not despair, but then again, they should not hope for much. If Royal wins the election, she will be much to busy to write books in her spare time, and if she loses, potential book sales would fall. That still leaves later on in life. Former US President Jimmy Carter has published 20-odd books, and each president gets at least one down to make some extra money. It is, after all, one of the many perks such a job offers.

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Sarkozy sues for defamation

PARIS: French interior minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has filed a defamation suit against a suspect in a murky political smear campaign, the Paris prosecutors' office said Tuesday.

The so-called Clearstream affair centered on damaging, but false allegations that Sarkozy had secret bank accounts. The scandal has implicated members of France's conservative government and shaken the political elite.

(...)

Lahoud, a former scientific director for European defense giant EADS, told judges investigating the affair he met twice with Sarkozy, in September and November 2004. The interior minister has repeatedly denied meeting with Lahoud. Read more...

Even though Sarkozy's name was cleared, this has got to be the last thing he would want to be dealing with right now.

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Blogger Wars, Sarkozy Strikes Back

The UMP has announced that they have validated 900 blogs in support of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, and that 16,000 internet users wish to play an active role in his campaign. They also updated their number of party members, saying that the UMP currently contains 327,000 members and is gaining 2000 more per day, which is four times as fast as earlier this year.

The Sarkozy campaign has been reeling from a number of web-tragedies, including not having a webpage ready immediately after Sarkozy's candidacy announcement, and a badly received speech at the Le Web 3 blogging conference in Paris. The Socialists have done quite the opposite, generating a huge grassroots web-network to supplement Segolene Royal's "participative campaign". But now it appears that the UMP is ready to strike back. According to today's announcement, Nicolas Sarkozy will release a video message to the party on January 1, which will be distributed on the UMP website. Whether this is the beginning of a new cutting edge campaign or a desperate attempt to appear modern will have to be seen.

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What (French) women want

Today's New York Times has an article that details the now trite story of how Segolene Royal's candidacy is breaking through many glass ceilings. Here are some quotes:

"She's a little like Marianne, the ideal of the French republic," said Réjane Sénac-Slawinski, a political scientist specializing in women and politics. "She gives the impression of being a wonder woman — a strong politician, a good mother, but also the woman every man wants to marry. Even when she makes mistakes, she's getting away with it because she says she's human, not an apparatchik."

The potency of her approach reflects the change in the political atmosphere in France. Not so long ago, male politicians would casually propose sexual encounters as they passed their female colleagues in the hallways and automatically assume that women received political appointments as rewards for sexual favors.

Every veteran woman in politics has a horror story to tell. Élisabeth Guigou, the deputy from the tough Seine-Saint-Denis area of Paris, has been called a Barbie doll behind her back and branded a whore in highway graffiti.

Françoise de Panafieu, a deputy mayor of Paris from the right-wing UMP party, who is her party's nominee for mayor of Paris in the 2008 election, was described as a "guinea hen on wheels" when she was photographed on Rollerblades in front of the National Assembly.

Roselyne Bachelot, a former minister of the environment, was portrayed on a satirical television show as simple-minded.

Still, Ms. Royal's candidacy — the first time a major French party has chosen a woman as its presidential nominee — remains an anomaly. French politics is still overwhelmingly male.

(...)

But it may be that the segment of the electorate most difficult for Ms. Royal to win over will be the country's women. Ordinary women may find it hard to relate to a middle-aged professional and mother of four who looked good enough in a bikini last summer that one popular magazine referred to her as a "siren."

"She has no hesitation saying how perfect she is," said Ms. de Panafieu, the deputy mayor, a lifelong politician who has six grandchildren and stopped dying her silver hair years ago. "She should be more modest."


I find this last comment about the difficulty in winning over woman, if true, to be quite universal. Something quite similar happened in 1960 when US Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy ran for president against Vice President Richard Nixon. Kennedy was tall, handsome, and incredibly smooth on camera, while Nixon was of average height, appearance, and exuded toughness instead of casualness. Logic would lead one to assume that Kennedy, being the younger and more attractive candidate, would win the female vote. Wrong. In one of the closest US elections in history, Kennedy won by only a small number of votes, and he actually lost the female vote overall, so he logically won the male vote. If this plays out similarly in the current French Election, it will be interesting to see if women vote end up voting for the new and attractive candidate or for the more experienced and tough Sarkozy. Perhaps it is the case that a majority of women prefer a father instead of a competing mother as president.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Chriac's third term

French President Jacque Chirac may not be receiving a third presidential term for Christmas this year, but he can still pretend.

A lawyer behind key corruption investigations into President Jacques Chirac's conduct has released a board game charting his hypothetical attempt to win a third presidential term, as he tries to dodge scandals and wield influence to stay on course.

"Jacques-Pote" (a play on words between Jackpot and Jack the Lad) is a satirical version of a traditional French boardgame called "jeu de l'oie" — a cross between snakes and ladders and monopoly.

Players move their coloured Chirac counters to squares which chronologically depict real chapters and events from his four-decade career, or scenarios that could boost his chances of re-election, such as a major international crisis.

A square featuring Ségolène Royal, the Socialist presidential candidate, who brandishes a rolling pin and is described as a "threat", orders Chirac to move backwards.

Likewise, when Nicolas Sarkozy, the Right-wing presidential favourite, brings out a best-seller – a reference to his summer hit Témoignages (Testimony), which topped the book charts for weeks – the player is ordered back six places. Read more...


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What, no news?


It seems hard to believe, but today is producing no new news for the French presidential election. Perhaps focus groups told the candidates that Christmas isn't a good time for campaign speeches. Anyway, there's always backup. This is a youtube video of the show "On n'est pas couché", in which comedian Florence Foresti impersonates Socialist candidate Segolene Royal. It was posted in late September and is currently one of the highest google hits for the search term "Segolene Royal". Everything is in French, although it is still worth watching even if you don't understand anything. Body language is a universal language ; ) Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sarkozy supports tax exile?


French rock-star Johnny Hallyday caused a huge stir last week when he announced that he would be moving to Gstaad, Switzerland to avoid paying high French taxes. In order to do so, he will have to live in Switzerland for at least six months and a day per year.

But in addition to entertainment value, this spectacle has had significant political effects as well. Hallyday befriended Jacques Chirac in 1988 during a failed election run, and was awarded the French Legion of Honor once Chirac won the presidency. This also led to the creation of a bond between Hallyday and the up and coming Nicolas Sarkozy, who has counted on Hallyday as a political supporter in the current presidential campaign. The news of this self-imposed exile initially embarrassed the Sarkozy camp, even prompting Socialist leader Francois Hollande to sarcastically describe it as "a really nice way to support his chosen candidate." However, Hallyday did impose an ultimatum. He said that if Sarkozy were elected, capped the income tax, and created exemptions on the inheritance tax, he would consider returning. Sarkozy seemed to defend Hallyday's action, saying later that

"so many of our artists, our creators, our researchers ... tell themselves that they have to leave (...) I would like people to think that they can live in France even when they succeed."

Today Hallyday announced in an interview with a weekly magazine that Nicolas Sarkozy directly approved of his exile, and that it has caused no friction between them. I imagine that if Sarkozy has a truly Machiavellian mind, he could add a whole new dimension of black mail to his candidacy. "A Vote for Royal is a Vote Against Hallyday."

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The roots Sarko/Sego's Mideast view


A book review in Asharq Alawsat of Chicac D'Arabie provides a good overview of how French-Arab relations have shifted since the Iraq War, and how this has laid the groundwork for Sarkozy's and Royal's more neutral, slightly pro-Israel, and even somewhat American stances with regard to the Middle East. Its main analysis is the frantic diplomacy of Jacques Chirac in anticipation of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

If Chirac made a mistake, it was not in trying to use the UN to stop the fall of Saddam Hussein. His mistake was in thinking that most Arabs did not want Saddam to fall. The truth, however, was that, at least as far as the governing elites were concerned, almost no one in the Arab world was prepared to shed a tear for the Baathist despot.

Even then, Chirac's gamble may have paid off. Imagine what would have happened if the US and its allies, unable to obtain a specific mandate from the UN to invade Iraq, had called the whole thing off. Chirac would have become a hero with the Baathists in Iraq while Saddam Hussein would have been able to make a spectacular return as a claimant to the leadership of all Arabs. France would have ended up as the only major power that had sided with the winner.

What did Chirac learn from the experience? The authors say he ended up with a "bitter taste in his mouth". This was not because Saddam Hussein was eventually toppled. What chagrined the French leader most was that, to his horror, he found out that Arab leaders, in fact, resented France's attitude. Officially hostile to the war in public, most Arab leaders in private reproached France for championing Saddam Hussein's cause. After the war, that attitude was translated into a virtual freeze of Franco-Arab relations and a significant decline in commercial exchanges.

Aeschimann and Boltanski claim that Chirac learned the lesson and tried to restore France's position in the US-led Western bloc by joining Washington's efforts to drive the Syrians out of Lebanon and to put collective pressure on the Khomeinist regime in Tehran with regard to Iran's controversial nuclear programme. Chirac has also increased France's military commitment to the war in Afghanistan thus easing pressure on the US armed forces. Read more...


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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Should Alliot-Marie cut and run?

With only days left, French Defense Secretary Michele Alliot-Marie is still refusing to say whether or not she will officially seek the nomination of the UMP against Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Considering today has been a slow news day, I'm just going to do a bit of paraphrasing from Le Figaro. Le Figaro is currently holding an unscientific poll on its website over the question "Should Michele Alliot-Marie abandon her race for the nomination?" As of now, 67% of respondents say "yes" and only 33% "no". Presumably the yes voters are either UMPers behind Sarkozy or Socialists who wish to face Sarkozy.

The poll has generated several pages of comments on the website. Here are some summaries:

charlotte: This is frightening! What a catastrophe!... There is only one enemy, it is socialism...The Royal "siren" who has only the name of it, will be in all ways Socialist: the 35 hours which have ruined France, nationalizations...MAM (Alliot-Marie), whatever her qualities, must be withdrawn. To help Sarko....Our country will be devastation, if she continues. It is so much to give up to the sirens of left!

jean-jules: She will not pass. The best pupil but without creativity and bond with the people, like Merkel (of Germany). She will divide the UMP. To beat the left it is necessary to unite.

^pépé06: This person formed a rather strange metaphor for the situation, somehow equating Sarkozy with a satellite, the UMP with a rocket, and Alliot-Marie as the first stage.

Vive_La_France: I think that it can always continue its fight. It is not likely to have the nomination and it gives gauge and opportunities to be expressed with Sarkozy....If MAM does not make the weight vis-a-vis in Ségolène, it is because of her little of charisma, not of her scarf!

If she follows any advice, I hope it is this: follow your own advice.

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Hulot overshadows Greens


There is no doubt that the wildlife star Nicolas Hulot has had an incredible influence on French politics. After all, the two leading presidential contenders have each signed his environmental pact to win votes and prevent a Hulot candidacy. But the attention Hulot is receiving is having an unintended side effect: he is completely overshadowing the traditional green parties.

Since launching his pact in November, he has overshadowed France's main environmentalist party, the Greens, and their candidate Dominique Voynet, who polls show has the support of around 1-2 percent of voters, to Hulot's roughly 10 percent.
"The Greens have been robbed," said Daniel Boy, research director at Sciences-Po university.
"They feel that the environment has been stolen from them."
After polls suggested Hulot was far more popular, Greens veteran Voynet, who has helped mould her party into a left-wing movement, asked Hulot in an open letter to join forces with her.
But he rejected his former ally's advances.
"You chose politics, I chose another path," he said in left-wing daily Liberation.
"What I am doing is neither on the right nor on the left, or even in the centre," he added.

(...)

French daily Le Parisien asked: "What use are (other) environmentalists?" and said a wave of "Hulotmania" had swept across France.

But Hulot should not overestimate his hand. The article notes that despite strong support for the environoment in France, the Green Party has been unsuccessful in capitalizing on that in the ballot box.

We always have difficulty, and have done since the Greens were founded, getting people's sympathy for our proposals to equate to sufficient credibility for voters to place a Greens ballot in the box," he added.
For all the public interest in his bid to put the environment at the centre of French politics, Hulot too may fail to transform sympathy into political clout.
"When you ask people what the biggest problem is today, it's far from being the main issue. It might rise but it is still far behind. It is still unemployment, security, purchasing power," Sciences-Po's Boy said.


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Map of the election blogosphere


A new website that has been getting a decent amount of press coverage in France has an interactive map of the huge blogophere that has grown up around French politics and the upcoming election. Le Figaro conducted an interview with the creator of the site last week.
To make this cartography, we started from a directory, and we launched robots which explored the various bonds between the sites. They returned with approximately 1300 sites, of which we kept only the 10% the most read for each party. The postulate, it is that the navigation of the Net surfer composes a true numerical territory, and that a proximity set of themes and ideological between two blogs will result in a proximity into term of bonds. In light, two close sites politically will tend to return on the same bonds. Our chart thus represents a real experiment of navigation which can be that of a Net surfer.

(...)

I have the impression that UMP electorate is less sensitive to the Web, which it goes less easily on the blogs than the Socialists can do it. Moreover, the financial basket available to the party of the majority enables him to center its countryside Internet on aspects plus "marketing" (purchase of key words...), while the PS played the Community aspect.
There is a certain disappointment with the UMP, where one could note that the blogs created by the party are still-born children with more than 90%. The majority of the blogs of the party of the majority besides very little are attached to the blogosphère and receive few bonds coming from third blogs, not included in the platform of the party. On right-hand side, they are the popular young people who assure the majority of the presence on the blogosphère. One can say that they hold galaxy UMP on Internet.
The blogs of support for Royal Ségolène, what is called Ségosphère, are in a logic of relay of information, of copier/coller of the same articles, same infos, to make mass and occupy the ground. But it is partly a waste of time. In fact thousands of blogs are not read which will do that one is taken again in addition, it is the fact of publishing original contents.

The analyst is also asked about how he believes this online presence will affect the campaign. He agrees that it will have an impact, but points out that some camps, like Jean-Marie Le Pen's, have little online presence but still hold strong positions in the polls. The interview ends by him saying that if France was only seen through this blogosphere, one would think that France is "populated only by thirty year olds who pass their life on the internet."

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Communist joins race

The Secretary General of the French Communist Party has announced her candidacy in the presidential election today. Marie-George Buffet was selected this Thursday by the Communist Party. Buffet entered politics in 1969 and from 1997-2002 served under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports. To be honest, while she may initially take some votes from Royal, all of these third party candidacies are rather unimportant except perhaps Jean-Marie Le Pen and Francois Bayrou. Joe McCarthy can breath easier in his grave; France will not be run by a Communist.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Sarkozy continues quest for nomination

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is closer than ever to securing his party's nomination for the presidency. After pledging support the other day, former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who also moderated the UMP debates, officially signed an endorsement for Sarkozy's candidacy. However, he was not alone. Over 140 French minister, deputies and senators followed his lead in officially supporting Sarkozy.

But while Sarkozy may have been flying high in his own party, National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen expressed quite a different view of the young Interior Minister:

"Mr. Sarkozy (...) is completely schizophrenic. How can he make the French believe that he will do tomorrow everything that he did not do yesterday? (...) the schizophrenic battle that Mr. Sarkozy carries out against himself, against his own party and his own culture, reinforces on the contrary the credibility of my arguments. Because finally, all that Mr. Sarkozy says, I said before him."


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Sarkozy gets support from Socialist

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has gained a bipartisan victory today, when former Socialist Health Minister Bernard Kouchner announced that he was ready to play a role in a Sarkozy "government of national unity".

"If there is a government of national union, superceding usual divisions, if there is a true 'team of France', yes"

Kouchner is an interesting fellow; he entered politics through the French Communist Party, but in 1971 he co-founded the Nobel peace-prize winning Doctors Without Borders. He served as Health Minister from 1992-1993 under Socialist PM Pierre Bérégovoy, and then took a number of European and UN positions throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Although he is a registered member of the Socialist Party, Kouchner has been highly critical of the Socialist presidential campaign, saying that they should not "lie to those who suffer".

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sarkozy rallies his troops


The nomination of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy by the UMP is slowly becoming a reality as more of Chirac's troops move to support the new guy on the block. Jean-Pierre Raffari, a former Chirac Prime Minister and the moderator of the three UMP forums has announced that he will back Sarkozy, saying that "Our first duty is the duty of unity." He only amended his full support by saying that while "One needs changes (...) one also needs continuities," suggesting that he would not like to a complete rupture from the Chirac era. Alain Juppe, another Prime Minister of Chirac and the current mayor of Bordeaux, said that "major changes and sometimes ruptures are necessary" and that the UMP should gather "as soon as possible", a not so subtle sign of Sarkozy support.

These announcements further decrease the already small chance of a Villepin or Alliot-Marie candidacy, although neither has said anything definitive on their future courses of action.

Note: I apologize for the picture, but it was too good to pass up.


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Le Pen is anti-semitic?


Hmm, who could imagine such an outrage? Well, considering Le Pen already has such a reputation, it might not come as such a shock. According to the Israeli website Ynetnews, National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen recently had some comic words to say about anti-semitic humor.
Le Pen, leader of the National Front who shocked France by finishing second behind President Jacques Chirac in the 2002 election, recently attended a show by controversial comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala.

The black comic was fined by a French court for anti-Semitic comments in 2004.

Asked on BFM radio whether it was Dieudonne's anti-Semitism that he found funny, Le Pen responded: "Yes, that can also be funny. There should be no subject that escapes criticism or irony. It all depends on how it is treated."

"You know the people who mock Jews the most are Jews themselves. There's a Jewish form of humor that is very famous and well-known."

If this wasn't telling enough, the article goes on to include a litany of other Le Pen offences.
(Le Pen) was convicted and fined in 1990 for inciting racial hatred and for saying in 1996 that the gas chambers used by the Nazis were "merely a detail" of World War Two.

He faces another trial next year for saying in 2005 that "the German occupation was not particularly inhumane". In June, he said the French soccer team had too many black players.

Coming from America, I strongly disagree with the notion that he was prosecuted for exercising his freedom of speech, although his comments have certainly been despicable. One wonders what the French think when they see his poll numbers rising.

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Money threatens Royal-Hollande relationship

All relationships must be strained by money matters at some point or another, and that between Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and Socialist party leader Francois Hollande is no exception. While Royal has been quite vague in terms of specific taxation plans, Hollande was utterly clear with Le Monde:
"A Socialist administration would reinforce the wealth tax, cancel President Chirac’s income tax cuts and fund state pensions from a new levy on personal and business earnings."

While the right seized the comments to portray Royal as nothing but a closet traditionalist instead of the modern reformer she would like to be, Royal herself was hiding from the press to weather the storm. Though these comments may not leave lasting damage, they do reveal the dangers that come with a couple so highly placed in the political world. I hope Hillary is watching closely.

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Third UMP debate

The third and final UMP debate was held today in Bordeaux. Sarkozy apparently continued to say that he will not step back from his duties if elected:
"I will not betray, I will not lie, I will not move back. What I will say, I will do. It is an engagement of honor. The policy also needs honor."


Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie used the debate as an opportunity to chastise the Socialists for wanting to hand over some military spending for a more integrated European defense, saying that lowering defense appropriations would be "criminal" and "irresponsible".

I'll add more info as it becomes available.

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Le Pen gets rival backing


Yesterday National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen took one more step toward upsetting the first election round by gaining the support of a rival candidate. This from Aljazeera:
Jean-Marie Le Pen, a French opposition leader has won the backing of a long-time enemy, in a move set to boost his chances in the 2007 presidential election.

Bruno Megret, who left the National Front after argueing with Le Pen in 1998, said on Wednesday that he and his National Republican Movement (MNR) would support his former boss next year.
"I'm withdrawing my candidature for the presidential election," said Megret, who scored 2.3 per cent of votes in the first round of the 2002 presidential election. Read more...

Even if this doesn't amount to much support in the election, Megret is already giving Le Pen a little Christmas present: 140 signatures to get Le Pen on the ballot.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Segolene Royal goes to China


Today the Royal camp announced that Segolene Royal will be heading to China on January 8, 2006. No itinerary has yet been released, although the the trip is scheduled to last three or four days. Of course, it was only days ago when her trip to the United States was delayed until later in the month because US Democrat Hillary Clinton had refused to meet with her. Perhaps her new choice of destination is a reflection of the great Asian shift in global politics; on the other hand, the lack of presidential elections in China ensures that no one will give her the cold shoulder.

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Royal blasts UMP rule

Expounding upon a theme that will likely take center-stage in her campaign to discredit Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal told an audience today that:
"France initially suffered five years of the power of the right (...) they (UMP) gave up all, they did not exert their responsibility, their means of action, they did not look in time how people lived, they founded precariousness as a normal mode of management of wage-earning (...) France initially suffers five years of the power of the right, of a capacity of brutality, rupture, precariousness (...) (it is necessary) to assume the responsibility for the State and the public power (...) We want a France which fights and a France which is raised."

Sarkozy's main theme so far has been that of a "rupture", and he has consistently tried to distance himself from the Chirac government in order to appear as a fresh political face. Royal and her crew are now going to attempt to closely connect Sarkozy with the past 5 years of Chirac, at least in the public's mind. If successful, they will cause the negative feelings that have collected over the last few years to tarnish Sarkozy's much heeded "rupture", leaving only one genuine rupture candidate (Royal) to vote for.

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Sarkozy gets support of Foreign Minister


Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has just earned the support of the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy. In an interview this week, the Foreign Minister said that:

"We have a collective requirement: to make a success of the gathering. It is our responsibility as centrists to fight with Nicolas Sarkozy. I intend to contribute my share to the social and European pole of the UMP. The left does not have the monopoly of generosity. All my political engagement was put at the service these values and European construction. I know that Nicolas Sarkozy has the capacity to make things move.

In response to a question about the possibility that Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin or Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie might also seek the presidency, Douste-Blazy said that "it is necessary to enter the campaign today, to show our capacity for gathering around Sarkozy, to beat the left and Ségolène Royal." The Foreign Minister came out swinging against Royal several weeks ago, when he heavily criticized her trip to the Mid-East, and more specifically, her strong words against Iran. If anything's for sure, Sarkozy will sleep better tonight.

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Best out of two, Sarkozy and Royal


An interesting poll released today allowed voters to choose which of the two major candidates they considered better on specific issues. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy won strong on security (64%), immigration (58%), and economic growth (44%). Socialist candidate Segolene Royal won on education (52%), purchasing power(?) (45%), on unemployment (39%).

These numbers are nothing radically new; Royal has always done well on the fuzzy-domestic stuff and Sarkozy has always done well on the more hard-edged issues. Almost like the hard v. soft science dichotomy. The good news for Sarkozy (and bad for Royal) is that the French are ready for some painful economic reform, and they are willing to at least give Sarkozy a chance to try out his capitalist ideas. Unfortunately for Sarkozy, he has been unable to turn these strong marks for change into higher poll numbers. Part of this may have to do with what issues the French consider most important. In this same survey, people were asked which two political issues would sway their vote. The winner was poverty with 30%, followed unemployment (28%) and purchasing power (23%). So out of the top three deciding issues, all of them are ones that Segolene Royal is judged to be the most competent.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

France pushes America away


The French have spoken and America is their victim. According to a recent poll, 75% of the French want the next French president to have distant relations with the United States, including almost a third who would like very distant relations. Among the 25% semi-sympathetic French, only 3% want very close relations. This is somewhat understandable considering the US debacle in Iraq, although it is ironic considering Sarkozy is unabashedly pro-American and Royal is much more of a foreign policy maverick than her socialist predecessors.

In terms of specific foreign policy issues, 32% of the French wish to see foreign aid be given top priority, followed by 28% who want France to focus on driving forward the EU.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, unlike his American counterpart, got a boost in today's poll. 44% of the French believe he is the most presidential, compared to a measly 29% for Segolene Royal. If Royal has an Achilles heel, it is that Sarkozy more naturally fits the role of president than she. How she deals with this will be interesting to see.

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Royal puts words on paper


Today Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has told party deputies to commence drafting legislation to be voted on by Parliament if she is elected president next spring. In the words of one official: ""the deputies all are solicited to take part in implementation of the legislative, with the preparation of preliminary drafts of law on the topics which she develops or topics of the socialist project." While not of great importance right now, putting Royal's sometimes vague words and pledges onto paper will force her hand on numerous controversial issues. Eventually, she will not be everything to everybody.

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Half of France is ready to vote

Another poll released today shows that almost 50% of French voters have already made their decision on who they will vote for in the first round of elections this April. In this first round, Segolene Royal would win with 31%, followed by Sarkozy with 30%. National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen is making a strong showing with 16%, somewhat different than several days ago when polls showed him back around 10%. Francois Bayrou is still holding at an unmoved 8%.

Of each candidates' voters, those for Jean-Marie Le Pen are the surest of their choice. 61% of his voters are certain they will vote for him, compared with 55% of Sarkozy's and 49% of Royal's.

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Youth want Royal and jobs

A new poll taken in late November shows that 56% of French aged 18-25 believe that Socialist candidate Segolene Royal is the most capable to address their concerns. This was followed by 44% for Sarkozy, 34% for communist Olivier Besancenot, and 24% for UDP Francois Bayrou.

The poll also showed a strong distaste for politics amongst the young. Although 75% say they will vote, 79% hold a negative view of politicians. For issues they consider important, 45% said unemployment, 36% increase the standard of living, and 31% said the environment.

This news could have been inferred earlier, because previous polls showed that Royal was definitely seen as the more modern and "intouch" candidate. It's good to see that the youth of France are being pragmatic; after all, getting a job is necessary if you are going to worry about the environment in your spare time. Since I am new to French politics, I hadn't realized that support for Communists was so high. A communist president would do wonders (warning: sarcascasm) for US-French relations.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Trainwreck for Sarkozy?


Siegfried Mortkowitz of the German Press Agency has a comprehensive analysis of Nicolas Sarkozy's recent mistakes, including rather lackluster debates, a bad web strategy, not capitalizin on Royal's Mid-East mistakes, and surrounding himself with pop stars that hurt his reputation. Mortkowitz concludes that these minor gaffes may not be of great importance now, but can take a heavy toll if not corrected.
None of these gaffes was Sarkozy's fault. But because he has always presented himself as a paragon of competence and good judgment he is being tarred for the sins of his supporters.

Despite all this, the interior minister remains popular, and he can count on next month's UMP congress - which is virtually certain to name him the party standard-bearer in the elections - to give his campaign a publicity-fuelled shot in the arm.

But Sarkozy has lost the early campaign skirmishes and, unless he recovers quickly, could soon be in danger of losing the war.

He also finds an inherent weakness in the way Sarkozy has been attacking Segolene Royal, which will have to change if Sarkozy starts to fall in the polls.
In fact, Sarkozy seems generally to be at a loss about how to combat Royal. He honed his pugnacious style in political battles against men, and has apparently chosen to trade in his boxing gloves for mitts of suede when dealing with her, a dubious strategy since it deprives him of one of his primary strengths.


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Sarkozy is here for you

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy gave a speech today in the Ardennes, where he expressed the wish to reunify France after the divisive EU constitution referendum that ended in its defeat.
"I want to speak in France about the 'no' which is not France of the refusal of the world or of Europe but France which cannot about it undergo any more, to feel listened, heard, not respected (...) I voted 'yes' with the referendum but I want and I must hear this France of the ' non' because I want to give him reasons to believe in the future. I want to understand, hear, speak with this France which let itself try by the abstention and allure by the extremism. I want to tell it that the Republic requires it, that you will not build anything just with anger."

(...)

I know that often you felt betrayed by those to which you had given your confidence (...) I will not betray you. I will not lie you, I will not give you up. (...) I did not come to say to you (...) to give up all the social rights to face the competition of India and of China. I came to say to you that I will never accept that France is a country where one impoverishes himself while working because work no longer pays enough.


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Hillary halts Royal visit



It appears that Socialist Segolene Royal's trip to the United States will be delayed again until late January or early February. Her camp says that it is because of fatigue from recent trips to the Mid-East and Portugal, but other reports place the blame on another presidential hopeful.
(...) in reality the decision appears to have been influenced by her failure to secure what would have been a symbolic meeting with Mrs Clinton, the Democrat senator whose ambition is to become America's first female president.

An unnamed advisor to Mrs Clinton told the newspaper Le Parisien that appearing next to a French Socialist who recently met an official of the Hizbollah movement in Lebanon could be construed as condoning the beliefs of the militant Shia group. The Democrats also have little in common with French Socialism, which supports massive state intervention, a huge civil service, and regularly lambasts "US world hegemony".
(...)
The Socialist party spokesman Julien Dray said that not enough people were available for Miss Royal's roadshow, and she did not intend to go to the US as a "tourist". However, Jacques Lang, her special advisor, confirmed that meetings had been scheduled with Kofi Annan and Ban ki-Moon, his successor as the United Nations Secretary General, as well as the Democrat presidential hopeful Barack Obama and the former US president Bill Clinton. Read more...


If true this is rather amusing. Hillary Clinton has been criticized as being to uptight and machine-like in her quest to win the White House, and not meeting with Royal because of her Mid-East trip is about as lame as you get. The meeting with Obama should be fun considering they both represent the same energy and modernity that the French and US crave. As for Bill Clinton, perhaps Hillary's cancellation is based on a bit of jealousy... Anyway, stay tuned.

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