Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Footballer takes aim at Sarkozy

UMP candidate and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has garnered some new criticism from Lilian Thuram, a black French football/soccer player who played in the recent 2006 World Cup.

""He (Sarkozy) says to me, you know, it is the Blacks and the Arabs who create problems in the suburbs. And I say to him: no, it is not the Blacks and the Arabs who create problems in the suburbs, those who create problems in the suburbs, they are called delinquents.

It is to say that he has a racial vision of the things and people. He said to me, for example, that he had been the first to name a Moslem prefect. That means that he judges people by their religion (...) Now I understand his speeches better on closeness/community and all that, why he thinks that."

Thuram is not new to politics; he was strongly against Sarkozy's statements during the 2005 riots, in which Sarkozy referred to the rioters as "scum." He is also playing a role in this election, dining just this Monday with Socialist candidate Segolene Royal.

That being said, Royal is not immune to racial problems of her own. Just this past week, Socialist Georges Freches, who has been a Royal supporter, was ejected from the party because of racist statements he made about the 2006 French national soccer team. And of course, there is no need to mention the racial problems of a Mr. Jean-Marie Le Pen. Perhaps Francois Bayrou has a chance after all.

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Sarkozy scandal grows

UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is facing more accusations of unethical conduct as head of the Interior Ministry. Besides the allegations concerning Segolene Royal related investigations, Sarkozy is facing a new charge of abusing his power for personal benefit. Earlier this January, the son of Nicolas Sarkozy had his scooter stolen from outside his house in an upscale Parisian suburb. Once the scooter was located ten days later, "Police carried out DNA tests to bring charges against three youths accused of stealing the scooter."

In another incident, the RG, the same police unit accused of "spying" on Royal, is found to have not only monitored and increase protection around Sarkozy's campaign headquarters, but even driven campaign members around. They claim to be doing do diligence, but after the last several allegations, you can be sure that everything is going to be given a second look.

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Sarkozy denies report

UMP candidate and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has strongly denied a report that the Renseignements généraux (RG), an intelligence unit in the interior ministry, investigated the assests of Segolene Royal and Francois Hollande.

"Not, it is not true, it is calumny, they are lies, I contradict formally, as contradicted the persons in charge for the police force of the French Republic. (...)

I have been Minister of Interior Department since 2002, there has never been some scandal there that this is...all this, each one understands it well, it is to make a diversion, because the socialist candidate is (faring) very badly after a certain number of declarations. It is necessary to make a smoke screen."

For the election's sake, this will hopefully turn out false, because if the one serious right-wing challenger turns out to be a semi-crook, you can bet that Royal won't have to answer any substantive questions before elected.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mr. Sarkozy, or Monsieur Nixon

Le Canard Enchaîné, the same paper that revealed a Les renseignements généraux (RG) investigation into Royal's environment adviser Bruno Rebelle, is set to reveal tomorrow that this same police intelligence organization was ordered in November 2006 to investigate the assets of Segolene Royal. This same information prompted the internet rumors in January, which circulated that Royal and her partner Francois Hollande had been avoiding the wealth tax, which kicks in when assets reach roughly US$1 million.

If true, and if it is found that Sarkozy knew of this previously, it has the potential to seriously damage Sarkozy's chances, even as he gains in the polls. This kind of abuse of power is what Royal has attempted to contrast with, and such an allegations would certainly make that easier. Even if he didn't know directly, this inquiry was conducted after Royal was nominated by the Socialist Party, meaning that a boundary was clearly crossed that shouldn't have.

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Stunning Slide for Royal

The last several weeks of polling has shown a damaged Segolene Royal, but one still capable of maintaining 48-49% of the second round vote. Now she should be worried. A new poll by Ipsos says that the UMP's Nicolas Sarkozy would defeat Royal 54% to 46% in the second round, the largest window of victory seen so far. He has also gained in the first round, nearly 10% above Royal, or 35% of the vote.

Other telling figures show how voters for third candidate would vote in the second round. According to this poll, a full 74% of Francois Bayoru's supporters would vote for Sarkozy, leaving only 26% for Royal. Bayrou has been gaining ground, and now commands 11-12% of the first round in most polls, a worrying trend if Royal wants to attract more centrist voters.

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Sarkozy lunches with Blair

Today UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy ate lunch with PM Tony Blair. While it may seem odd to some Brits, who are ready and happy to see Blair gone in several months, Sarkozy seemed unable to stop complimenting the ideas and actions of the British Prime Minister.

"I want to construct the best for France, I want to go to meet everywhere in the world those who served their country well, who were useful to their country. There is great confidence between Tony Blair and me.

...the manner Tony Blair drives his policy...the resolution of Irish problem, full employment, modernization of the country...It is not a question of plating a model (on French case) but Tony Blair showed pragmatism and been useful in his country and I want France very open to the world. One of our problems, it is that we are too much centered on ourselves.

They have of course disagreement, for instance, the affair of Iraq...(but) he taught me that pragmatism and openness, in policy, this counts."

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Sarkozy goes to London

UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is traveling to London today, where he will be meeting with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as French ex-pats. This will officially be Sarkozy's first foreign trip as a presidential candidate, and a much more politically safe destination than Royal's voyages the Middle East or China.

Although Blair is intimately connected with the Iraq War, he is seen as a moderate figure in France, leading both candidates to create comparisons between him and him/herself. Segolene, while already compared with Blair in the French media, has yet to meet him this campaign. Sarkozy, on the other hand, has met him 8 times since 2002, and is seen as the favorite of Downing Street. The Socialists, attempting to create a wedge between Sarkozy and Britain in the public mind, have said that Sarkozy "only has to meet Margaret Thatcher now. The photo will go alongside that of Sarkozy with Bush."

One should also not discount Sarkozy's meetings with the French community in Britain. Roughly 300,000 French citizens live there, just 100,000 shy of the population of Royal's recent choice of destination, Martinique. They are also likely more business orientated, which would favor the policies of Sarkozy.

Interestingly, Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who has become a supporter of Sarkozy's campaign, was commanded by President Jacques Chirac to not go with Sarkozy: "the Defence Minister has no business travelling abroad with the UMP candidate." Is this Chirac once again meddling in a future not his own, or a feeble attempt to stop his government from being completely marginalized in its final months? We'll have to see.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Royal ignores changing polls

According to Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, who just returned to France after campaigning in the Caribbean, she doesn't look at polls.

"I do not look at the surveys. They move much. It is necessary to hold the distance, the stages and the rhythm of a campaign. I do not want to know 2002 again. (...) I work peacefully.

At the proper time, there will be the fruit of of labor, mine and also that of the French who come to the participative debates. It is not easy to see that the politics changes. But it is essential. There is a democratic crisis, people do not believe in anything anymore. An anger goes up."

But while Royal is resting on her laurels, polls continue to show her slightly below UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy (51% to 49%). Worse yet, the UDF's Francois Bayrou is beginning to gain some momentum, rising up to 14% in the first round in a recent poll. While still 15% behind Royal's first showing, Le Pen's sudden upset in the 2002 election proved once again, "It ain't over till it's over."

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Polls pummel Royal campaign

New polls are reinforcing the belief that some French are rapidly losing faith in Segolene Royal's "participative campaign".

57 % of the French estimate that the election campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy is more "solid" and 45% that it is more "credible" that that of Ségolène Royal, but the socialist candidate is judged nearer to the concerns of the French. 57% of probed estimate that the qualifier of "solid" applies better to the campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy that to that of Ségolène Royal, against 25 % which think the opposite.

In addition, 52 % find the campaign of candidate UMP "precise" (against 23 % which chooses Royal), 45 % find it "credible" (31 % for Royal) and 39 % estimate that he proposes new ideas (33 % for Royal). On the other hand, 40 % of probed find that it is the socialist candidate who is closer to their "concerns" (38 % choose Sarkozy) and 42 % find her "modern" (38 % for Sarkozy).

The new numbers with regard to the "closeness to concerns" and to the candidate's "modernity" should be the most worrying to the Royal camp right now. Her general election numbers show that she can sustain campaign gaffes and still poll close to 50%. However, much of the strength of her campaign has been based on the strength of her personality and reputation, which has represented a mixture of unity, freshness, and change. If the French begin to see her as any old politician (think Sarkozy), then her poll numbers may never have a chance to recover.

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Royal Antilles

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has wrapped up her visit to the Caribbean with a final stay on Guadeloupe. Last election, the Socialist candidate came in third in this area, but this time around Royal hopes to win a majority in Martinique and 45% of the votes in Guadeloupe. Despite the fact that 57% of the French now think that the UMP's Sarkozy is running a more solid campaign, Royal has been able to get through this trip without too much of a hitch.

She did, however, open herself up to some political backlash when she declared in creole "Nou kay cassé çà", which basically means "We enter in rupture." Apparently the UMP has exploited and mocked an incorrect translation, "We all will break", in turn causing outraged denouncements from the left.

The only thing missing from this American hemisphere visit is an actual visit to America. Royal had been planning to come to the US at the beginning of January, but then that was delayed till early February, and as of now there is no word on future plans. Perhaps after her China trip, Royal's advisers have put all non-France campaigning on hold.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sego Affair in court

Apparently Jean-Pierre Mignard, a friend and lawyer for Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, is planning to file legal papers to stop websites from spreading the rumor that Royal had an affair with the former head of Renault, Louis Schweitzer (right). According to Mr. Mignard, the accusations are nothing but a "lie" and "an extremely serious attack on her private life."

Rumors are not new to the Royal-Hollande relationship, although this comes at a particularly sensitive time. Assuming supporters of Sarkozy are behind this mudslinging, they will have to make sure not to step too far: Sarkozy himself has had a less than normal relationship with his wife Cecilia. One also has to wonder at the logic of the assertion: Why would a rising and attractive politician risk her future for a man that no one would mistake as even remotely handsome.

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Socialists tell Freches goodbye

Perhaps Socialist candidate Segolene Royal is hoping that eventually, no matter what happens, one must hit rock bottom.

From CNN:

The French Socialist party threw out one of its leading members on Saturday for having said there were too many black players in the national soccer team, adding to the woes of its presidential candidate Segolene Royal.

Georges Freches, president of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south and a founding member of the party, is a supporter of Royal.

She has backed his expulsion from the party but it comes at a bad time for her as she faces criticism for a series of gaffes on foreign policy and domestic issues. (...)

"If he had not said what he said, we would all ... be in a much more agreeable situation," said Patrick Mennucci, deputy director of Royal's campaign.

Freches got in hot water just this past November, when, referring to the fact that 9 out of 11 of France's soccer team was black, he said "I am ashamed for this country. Soon there will be eleven blacks." To top matters off, Freches has been fined for calling Algerians who fought with the French "sub-human". From an amateur's perspective, Freches deserves what he got. A few years ago a top US Republican lost his leadership post just for implying that the US would have been better off if a segregationist had become president in the early 1900s. Freches was blatantly racist, and he paid the political price. The court fine, on the other hand, seems ridiculous. As long as someone isn't encouraging violence, freedom of speech should be final.

For Royal and the campaign, this is frankly unfortunate. However, because Sarkozy has consistently been identified as an enemy of minorities, especially because of last year's race riots, this distraction is unlikely to change any votes.

As a side note, I considered titling this post "A Fresh start for Freches", but after "Bayrou the Brave", the alliteration might have gone a bit too far.

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Bayoru the Brave

UDF candidate Francois Bayrou has been greeted with some heartening poll numbers today. A full three quarters of the French believe that he is "courageous", 53% identify him as a centrist, and 46% think that Bayrou has proposed solutions for the country. Another 43% also found that Bayrou had a successful entrance into the campaign, far ahead of Le Pen's 32%, but still far behind Royal and Sarkozy.

As current trends continue, Bayrou is rapidly becoming the "third candidate", a position previously held by the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Despite Le Pen's strong showing several months ago, with 17% in one poll, he has recently seen his poll numbers shrink to 10% and below, while Bayrou has risen to double digits from a previous rut at 8%. Any new surprise candidate such as Chirac or a damaging scandal on either side of the aisle obviously has the potential to put Bayrou in the running, but for now he will remain a distant yet determined third.

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Royal nuclear gaffe, Bush replay

The French Force Océanique Stratégique has four nuclear submarines capable of launching nuclear missiles. Earlier this week Segolene Royal was asked in an interview how many of these the French had, and she hesitantly guessed one. The interviewer responded by saying that the true figure was actually 7, to which she replied "Oui, sept", and gave a nervous chuckle. A video of this whole exchange can be found here . The actual mistake happens about 2/3 of the way through.

This unfortunate mistake will likely not change many votes, but is it more than faintly reminiscent of another presidential hopeful, George W. Bush. In 1999, then Texas Governor Bush was given a mini-test during an interview, in which he was asked who the leaders were of a variety of foreign countries. Bush could not name the leaders of Chechnya or India, and only knew Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf as "The General". Perhaps, and I am using the socialists' wording, Nicolas Sarkozy is not the only neo-con with an American passport who is running for the French presidency.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Third time's the charm for Royal

If this is beginning to seem like too much, it is. This week began with Segolene Royal appearing to support the sovereignty of Quebec, which sparked widespread criticism from the Canadian government. Several days later, Royal accidently revealed that she had absolutely no idea how many nuclear-armed submarines the French navy had.

Today came a third gaffe. A French comedian named Gérald Dahan called the Royal camp while impersonating the premier of Quebec, Jean Charest.

Employing a fake Quebecois accent, Mr Dahan said that Ms Royal’s expression of sympathy for the sovereignty of the Québécois people would be comparable to him coming to France and supporting the idea of Corsican independence.

Laughing, Ms Royal replied: “The French would not be against this by the way. Don’t repeat that. It will create another incident in France. It’s a secret.”

An extract from the conversation was broadcast on Friday by RTL radio.

Royal's spokespeople immediately tried to play down the incident, ensuring that everything she said was in jest. We'll have to see who has the last laugh on election day.

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Sarkozy derailed?

French Interior Minister and UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is facing increasing pressure to resign his government post after allegations were confirmed that an intelligence branch of his ministry had an open file on one of Segolene Royal's campaign members (Bruno Rebelle). For their part, the Socialists appear to smell blood after weeks of watching Sarkozy soar and Royal fumble; Rebelle himself said, "Can you believe it? They were digging away to see if I was a wife-beater," and former culture minister Jack Lang said, "I am demanding the resignation of the minister-candidate, who is using the state apparatus for personal, partisan reasons."

The poetic irony of all this, as I believe the Financial Times mentioned today, is that 20 years ago one of Royal's brothers helped destroy the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand, and now the former head of Greenpeace in France is Royal's environment advisor.

But despite the good news for Royal, she has been unable to keep her mouth shut.

The controversy overshadowed Ms Royal's latest blunder, which occurred when asked how many ballistic nuclear missile-carrying submarines France possessed. "One," she said. "In fact, it is seven," said the journalist interviewing her. "Ah yes, seven," she replied. The true figure is four.

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Royal Carribean

After a trans-Atlantic flight, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal arrived in the French island Martinique. Along with her is the number 2 in the socialist party, Francois Rebsamen, and a former socialist minister Louis Le Pensec. All in all, it will be a 36 hour visit. It would be interesting to know how far in advance this trip was planned, especially with these recent revelations about some police investigation into a Royal campaign member. Perhaps they think that by getting Royal out of the way, and away from any new embarassing statements, Sarkozy can self-destruct.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

French jobs in the balance

Today has been marked by two very different views held by Socialist Segolene Royal and UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy over the issue of jobs, unemployment, and rigid French labor laws.

Currently France has something known as the CNE contract, which allows for small businesses to hire someone for a two year trial period. This allows firms more risk in hiring, as well as an employee evaluation time before larger social charges would kick in. Nicolas Sarkozy has declared his strong support for the law, and indicated that he would work to extend the trial period: "The CNE is progress. We must not touch it." Sarkozy's position has also gotten the support of Medef, France's main business federation.

"We just need to change some parameters: A bit more freedom, a bit more air and all will improve immediately in France. And everything will improve for the French. I find it strange that one wants to abolish a type of hiring, which has created 45,000 jobs in nine months, which would not exist otherwise."

Royal has expressed a sharply contrasting opinion. Stating that "the model of economic insecurity that the right is proposing is pulling France downwards," Royal wishes to scrap the law altogether.

Although this type of contract may not be perfect, I think most objective economists would agree that France needs to liberalize its labor laws if it is to reduce unemployment and compete better in the global economy. This leaves two bad options. Either Royal wins, and brings the French economy one step backward, or Sarkozy wins, and faces paralyzing protests such as those that thwarted PM Dominique de Villepin's youth labor law last year. Lets hope that Royal finds a more pragmatic touch, and Sarkozy a more conciliatory demeanor.

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File on Royal supporter confirmed

The intelligence unit for the Interior Ministry (RG) has confirmed that they have a file on one of Segolene Royal's campaign team, Bruno Rebelle (see right), and that the file was updated "automatically" when he joined her camp. According to them, it was only comprised of biographical information. The man at the center of this, Bruno Rebelle, denounced the "methods of Nicolas Sarkozy."

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sarkozy 007

A controversial new report from the French paper Le Canard Enchaine, says that the domestic intelligence service of the Interior Ministry, which Sarkozy leads, has investigated a member of Segolene Royal's presidential campaign. Bruno Rebelle, the alleged target of this investigation, was a leader in Greenpeace France before he joined Royal's campaign. According to the report, three ministry officials investigated his background and that of several others.

Nicolas Sarkozy was quick to deny any such investigation, indeed he even seemed a bit humorous in his response:

"An investigation on Madame Royal. Over what? To find out what? To look for her campaign platform? That wouldn't be an investigation. That would be an exploration...It's completely ridiculous. They must hold their nerve and stay calm.

The Royal camp has taken a mildly outraged stance, with spokesperson Julien Dray stating that:

"The information revealed confirms the total confusion between the ministry functions and the presidential candidate status."

Royal's romantic partner and Socialist leader Francois Hollade also came to the rescue:

"If this information is confirmed, and I ask that there be an immediate investigation, it would be extremely worrying because it would mean that the Interior Ministry is, after all, working for candidate Sarkozy."

If this report proves to be true, it could leave a dark stain on a man already considered a bit too power hungry. The Royal camp will obviously try to play this up as much as possible, but at the same time act dignified in case the allegations fall apart. Sarkozy will have a lot of explaining to do if this pans out, otherwise he might just be the victim of his very own swiftboat.

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Royal makes surprise visit to Jewish dinner

Yesterday evening was the annual CRIF dinner, an event for an umbrella French Jewish group that attracts many of France's most prominent politicians. While it was known that UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has a strong relationship with the group, and would attend last night, it was not known that Socialist Segolene Royal would make a surprise visit before dinner. She has had tense relations with the group in the past, and was even accused of ignoring a CRIF invitation to come and speak. Apparently hoping that her stance on the Iranian nuclear issue will be her trump card against Sarkozy in France's Jewish circles, Royal reiterated her opposition to both Iran's military and civilian programs. She and Sarkozy both left before dinner was served. They were joined last night by one other candidate, the UDF's Francois Bayrou.

The main speaker was French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, and the topic of conversation Iran.

(We) hope that Teheran will make the choice of dialogue and will make the decisions allowing a resumption of negotiations. If such were not the case, if Iran does not conform to its obligations, supplementary measures will be examined."

Villepin strongly condemned Mamhoud Ahmadinejad's statement's against the Jewish State, saying that "vis-a-vis with these threats, Israel can count on France." The CRIF leader Roger Cukierman went even further, comparing Ahmadinejad to Hitler.

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Bayrou would tie Royal in runoff

New polls shed a brighter light on UDF candidate Francois Bayrou, a centrist with only about 12% of the first round vote so far. If he somehow managed to get into the second round and face Socialist Segolene Royal, they would each have 50% of the vote. If he was in a runoff against UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, he would lose by the slightest of margins: 51% to 49%.

Other interesting numbers: if French President Jacques Chirac ran, he would win only 5% of the first round vote, about half as much as Jean-Marie Le Pen. Sarkozy will sweep the small-business owner vote, 70% to 30% against Royal. This is even higher than a month ago, when he was winning only 65%. This is likely to have increased not only because he has pledged numerous times for tax cuts and more hours at work, but because the shadow of tax increases is growing over Royal and the socialists. Yet the French as a whole still put employment as their number one priority, and Sarkozy may very well scare those voters into the Royal camp if he doesn't tread a careful line.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Royal strikes at Sarkozy's tax cuts

Today Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has taken a strong stance in opposition to UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, who has called for a 4% reduction in taxes.

(It is) a dangerous step (...), unjust and not credible...The social inequalities are such today in France that it is scandalous to go to lower the taxes on most favored....Is it really credible in the current economic situation of France, considering our level of debt and deficit, to promise a fall of the (tax). Not only it is not responsible, but dangerous. Nobody believes it, the French are intelligent, they do not believe what Nicolas Sarkozy has just said to them."

Despite this, Royal promises that she won't raise taxes, but just spend more effectively. ""It is necessary to better spend, to fight against waste, not to fold back some of the public services at a time when social fractures are increasing."

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UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has outlined a new economic plan, one he hopes will revitalize French growth. So what is he proposing.

1. A 4% cut in individual taxes amd charges, which is 2000 euros/year on average per household.

2. 95% of population will not be charged inheritance tax.

3. Anyone who works more than the set 35 hours will not pay tax on those hours, and their employer won't pay social charges for those hours.

4. On average only one civil servant will be hired for every two that resign. Interestingly, civil servant salaries and pensions cost France a whopping 45% of its annual budget. US entitlement programs make up a majority of the budget too, but that is spread out over the general population.

Sarkozy is hoping that these ideas will be enough to gain him votes and generate some economic stimulus, but not too much to scare voters and cause massive rioting. If he succeeds this will certainly put Royal on the defensive, and pressure her to release her own pragmatic vision of the future. If not, she may have an easier ride than expected.

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Royal incurs wrath of Canada

After two embarassing international forays, it would be hard for Royal to screw up a third time; nevertheless, she did, and on her own turf. During a radio interview with the head of the Quebec independence movement, Royal expressed her support for "freedom, and the independence of Quebec." These comments were nearly universally condemned in Canada, first by the head of the Liberal federalist party, Stephen Dion:

"She does not understand, you do not interfere in the affairs of a friendly country, you do not wish for the dismantling of a friendly country. Canada does not wish for the dismantling of France and France certainly does not wish for the dismantling of Canada."

She was even scolded by the Prime Minister of Quebec, Jean Charest, especially because she has previously rejected his official invitation to visit the province.

If that wasn't enough, Royal is having to go so far as defend her marriage, as rumors fly in the wake of a public tax feud.

"It is important that the rumours stop, that we are left in peace. Every day we hear something new about our relationship. The French people are tired of this intrusion into our private lives."

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Royal and Hollande united

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and her partner/Socialist leader Francois Hollande attempted to put their public tax feud behind them today. In Paris they together opened the refitted Socialist headquarters, which is going to be used as the headquarters for Royal's presidential campaign.

As first secretary and with all the Socialists, we are honoured and proud to accomodate Ségolène Royal, our candidate in the presidential election. We want a campaign that (...) makes it possible to take down roses from the sky, and if it is not possible, we will take them down ourselves."

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Hulot leaves race

French eco-star Nicolas Hulot has announced that he will not be candidate in the upcoming election.

"I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election. I have chosen to trust the candidates' word and their commitment."

While Le Pen and Bayrou may be quite annoyed, Royal and Sarkozy must be relieved. After all, someone trusts them.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Demain, Hulot

France is currently holding its collective political breath in anticipation of Nicolas Hulot's candidacy anouncement tomorrow. If the eco-star enters the race, he will add an entirely new dimension to the campaign, and threaten any preconceived notions of a Sarko-Sego runoff. By no means is success guaranteed, but the addition of a new heavy-hitter in an already crowded field will cause shifts, either away from Sarko/Sego, or away from the lesser candidates who already find it difficult to breath. This could easily throw some out of the running entirely, but may also open the door for a Le Pen or Bayrou surge.

Even if he does not choose to run, Hulot will still retain a huge amount of political leverage with the major candidates. Most of them have signed the Hulot ecological pact, and Sarkozy and Royal are already beginning to get irritating with their continual pledges for a better environment. Whatever happens tomorrow, Hulot has already made an impact.

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Royal or Jospin

Xavier Bertrand, who is the French Minister of Health and spokesperson for UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, has compared the evolving campaign of Socialist candidate Segolene Royal with the 2002 campaign of Socialist Lionel Jospin, which ended in his defeat in the first round of voting.

"If Mrs. Royal wants to renew the kind, it will be necessary that she speaks to the French very clearly about the bottom about her project. For the moment, she made proposals, some which curl the demagogy. She does not have a project and it should be known that without a project, she will not change anything.

(...) What the French want to know, which are the taxes that they will pay if the Socialists are in power."

Once again, this campaign appears to be falling into the dreaded trap of American politics. The left will raise taxes, the right is against the poor, and nothing of substance is ever discussed.

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Sarkozy's little house on the prairie

Although they can not technically vote for him come election day, Nicolas Sarkozy is gaining some supporters with just the strength of his family story. Who are they: Hungarians. While Nicolas Sarkozy's Hungarian father lived with his brothers in Budapest during the year, they spent their summers in the small town of Alattyan, where their great uncle Lajor Toth-Maar lived.

Though Sarkozy's father fled Hungary at the end of World War II, he left the village with plenty of memories, which are now coming full with Sarkozy's rise. One man who worked on the family's land described them as "handsome, charming boys... In the evenings, the boys rode around town in their carriages and chased and kissed girls." If one can trust the town historian, "We’re really rooting for him, I hope he wins." Sarkozy has only one relative left with his name in Hungary, Mariann Sarkozy, who while a supporter, does harbor some questions: "It’s a shame Nicolas doesn’t speak Hungarian, how can this be? It’s part of him."

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Winds of Change

This week's Newsweek has a long article on the upcoming elections, beginning with the "coronation" of Nicolas Sarkozy this past weekend. The article then moves onto the sad state of affairs France was in after the Suez crisis and during the Algrerian war, and how Charles de Gaulle achieved a remarkable economic growth rate to turn things around.

Coming back to today's candidates, it dutifully acknowledges that each candidate appears to stand for change, and yet even they know that the French really don't want any difficult reform.

Sarkozy likes to think of himself as a reformer, and to his credit he does speak of amending French laws that inhibit labor mobility and stifle hiring and entrepreneurship. Yet he knows not to stray too far into specifics, or controversy. In this, he is much closer to his rival than he would care to admit. Ségo offers herself as the first woman ever to head France—almost as if that were enough.
But neither they nor other Europeans have any real inkling of what they stand for, or who they are. Far from being a referendum on change, there's growing concern that the next occupant of the Elysée may be a change in name only.

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Sarkozy will quit before election

UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has affirmed that he will leave his post as Interior Minister several weeks before the first round of elections this spring. Sarkozy endured a public rebuke several weeks ago by President Jacques Chirac, who not so subtly indicated that he expected everyone (read Sarkozy) to continue their duties despite the presidential campaign.

Sarkozy was also quite frank when asked what he would do if Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou made it into the second tour, thereby ending his presidential chances.

"I take a blow on the head and then I reflect. I say to myself how could you mess up! How could you be so bad!. The first thing, is that I do not accuse any of my collaborators, none of my friends. I say to myself it is necessary really that you do another trade, my old man".

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Violent Protests at Le Pen HQ

Several days ago protests turned violent outside of National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen's headquarters. Luckily, no one was injured. In fact, no one was ever in danger.

If the online virtual world Second Life attempts to emulate reality, it almost worked. Le Pen's camp had opened a virtual headquarters on the virtual Porcupine Street, apparently trying to look a bit more modern. Yet no sooner had they moved in, a group named Second Life Left Unity claimed to have bought the land right next to the offices, and planned to mount protests until Le Pen left. Several nights of protests ensued, which included "multi-colored explosions" and "constant gunfire". This proved too much for Le Pen's internet officials; the headquarters was removed, leaving only a few defaced Le Pen posters.

After the event, users argued over whether or not Le Pen's camp broke the Second Life signup terms in the first place, which bans "race hate". All in all, not a pretty site for Mr. Le Pen.

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Debate away her problems

Yesterday Socialist candidate Segolene Royal attempted to put her disagreements and campaign feuds behind her. After expressing regrets that she would not be able to attent the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya this weekend, Royal travelled to Lille, where she lead one of her campaign's many "participative debates". There Royal gained the support of the mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry, and together they toured an urban rehabilitation project in the southern end of town.

The end of the evening included the testimony of an unemployed mother who had been beaten by her husband. Royal has made domestic abuse a highlight of her campaign, and promised swift action if elected. Sarkozy, on the other hand, has not nearly given the issue as much attention, and even joked last week about an alleged prostitution ring following a Russian tycoon on vacation in France.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Royal and Hollande looms over election

Two events this weeks have dramatically changed the nature of this upcoming presidential election. The first was Nicolas Sarkozy's glitzy and successful nomination convention, which gave all the appearances of party loyalty, and gave him a surge of support in the polls.

But if the creases in the UMP seemed to be smoothing, the tightly wound socialist party began to fray. Beginning with a public disagreement over taxes, the tension between Segolene Royal and the Socialist Party, namely her romantic partner and party leader Francois Hollande, has shaken what was previously a momentum filled campaign.

With the political differences between Royal and Hollande in headlines all week, speculation about infidelity, and separate apartments resurfaced. Some commentators pondered whether all that was left of the couple was a facade of a political partnership of convenience. (...) As the left-leaning Libération daily put it this week: "François Hollande and Ségolène Royal still love each other. But they are looking in dramatically different directions."

It will now be up to Royal to retake the high ground and move forward as quickly as possible. If allowed to languish, as John Kerry's swift boat story did, Royal will be handicapped for the rest of the campaign. Such political misfortune might bode well for Sarkozy's election chances, but certainly would not bode well for France.

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Hulot's support dampens

French ecological celebrity Nicolas Hulot will have to announce this coming Monday whether or not he will run for the French presidency, and if he is currently harboring doubts, he should. A new poll released today shows that 51% of the French do not want him to run, with only 45% in support of such a move. Not surprisingly, he found his highest support among women and people under 30 years of age, while men and people over age 50 were solidly against his candidacy.

Despite his continuing popularity as a public figure, it is clear that the French are satisfied with the candidates they have now. That could mean that the left simply doesn't want another candidate to split the vote with Segolene Royal, a cynical yet wise judgement after Lionel Jospin spectacular defeat by Jean-Marie Le Pen last election. I would have assumed that the right would be excited about the prospect of a Hulot candidacy in order to damage Royal, although because Hulot appears quite mainstream, his entrance into the race could bring about a host of surprises, and give Francois Bayrou and Le Pen a glimmer of hope.

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R&D Battle Royal

Like the environment, research and development spending is a bipartisan issue that leaves (most)everyone happy. So it is that both UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and PS candidate Segolene Royal have each tried to outdo each other in promises of more R&D.

In a column published in the December edition of the French magazine 'Research', the centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy said that if in office, he would see to it that the total amount spent on research and development (R&D) - both public and private - would increase by €15 billion over the next six years. For its part, the French Government would inject a further €4 billion - a 25% increase - into the current public R&D budget, he said.


Meanwhile, in a column to be published in the February edition of 'Research', socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal has given her thoughts on the future of research in France. If elected, Ms Royal pledges to increase the annual research budget by10%.

Are French researchers salivating over these numbers? Not really. According to one member of the French national scientific research trade union, Sarkozy's pledge is "a manipulation of words and numbers", and Royal has not released enough detail for a fair judgement.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Miss France, Mr. France?

This weeks Economist is running an article about the attractiveness of politicians, and how it both can hurt and help a prospective candidate. It begins with the short and relatively average Nicolas Sarkozy and his challenge in beating an attractive woman candidate. The article concludes that attractiveness can help non-incumbent candidates get an edge, but that if clever enough, the opposing candidate can turn it into a political weapon. Likewise, Sarkozy will have the opportunity to paint Royal as a pretty face and airhead, but it will as always depend upon his delivery.
Here's an excerpt about several American presidential hopefuls:

Of course, this advice is easier to swallow if you are authentically beautiful. Everyone else must think carefully about how real to be. Al Gore did not try hard enough: he wore too much make-up in his first presidential debate. Richard Nixon was too authentic by half: he lost his 1960 face-off with John Kennedy for want of a bit of powder which could have concealed his stubbly chin.

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Royal affirms she will examine 35 hour rule

In an interview that will come out tomorrow, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has reconfirmed her commitment to examine and adjust the 35 hour work week policy.

"We will see. I do not prohibit myself in this field. I want that socialism is the socialism of reality: we must look at the things opposite. It is not to repudiate oneself to readjust certain reforms to erase their negative effects."

While not breaking news, Royal is likely trying to wrap Sarkozy's notion of reform in a softer and more forgiving package. Despite his surge of support in the past week or two, Sarkozy is still highly vulnerable in being labeled as an emotionless capitalist, reforming at the expense of French jobs and lifestyle. Also, by showing herself as a pragmatist, Royal will be more difficult to caricature as a traditional socialist.

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Royal was on top, takes action against infighting

A poll taken from 10-12 January shows that Socialist candidate Segolene Royal would win against UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy 52% to 48% in the second round. If accurate, this would confirm that Sarkozy's nomination on January 14 really did have quite an impact, reversing their positions in the polls. This past Monday a poll placed Sarkozy at 52% and Royal at 48%.

However, Royal has not sat idle while her campaign has seemingly turned into a quandary. Today she suspended Arnaud Montebourg, a spokesperson of hers, for a month because of comments he made on French TV. During an interview on Wednesday, Montebourg had said that "Ségolène Royal has one defect, it is her companion," referring of course to Royal's partner and leader of the Socialist Party, Francois Hollande. If she has any wits about her this will be only the first of several moves to sure up her campaign and support, which has been cracking as dissension over taxes have boiled over into a public feud.

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Sarkozy, The Stranger

In a theatrical coup, he (Sarkozy) has allowed Yasmina Reza, France's biggest commercial playwright, to follow his every move in order to write a portrait of his "existential" inner being.
Reza said: "I wanted to write about the existential dimension of a politician... Sarkozy, whom I had never met, was the obvious choice."
Sarkozy is no doubt hoping the finished work will not share the title of another successful play by Reza Conversations After a Funeral.more...

It seems Sarkozy may be going all out French, although this really appears quite ridiculous to any foreigner. Hopefully for him this will not distract a campaign that has just barely started.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Voters' views narrow, Sarkozy gains

As expected, French voters are narrowing their choice of presidential candidate with less than 100 days until election day. While at the end of November 68% of the French said that they would potentially vote for Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, that number has tumbled to 58%. Sarkozy's potential has narrowed more slightly down from 58% to 56%. Comparing this with 2nd round polls, each candidate will have to use the next few months to win over the roughly 5% of voters who are still on the fence.

In another affirmation of Sarkozy's success this past Sunday, 34% of voters believe that the UMP is most united party behind its candidate. Royal had enjoyed an advantage over Sarkozy in this arena after her sweeping socialist victory in November, but now only 28% say that the PS is most united.

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More tax woes for Royal

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal's tax woes took on a new dimension today, when she used an interview on French radio to deny rumors that she evaded the wealth tax through a family property company.

"I cannot allow myself to be branded a tax evader. I find it scandalous. (...) I started my life with nothing, so this is the fruit of my work. I am well-off and I think it is normal to pay the wealth tax."

According to the article, politicians discussing personal wealth is often taboo in France, but Royal has released an estimate of her personal assets at €355,000, which includes two houses and a share of an apartment. The property company that has been at the center of this tax rumor is worth €914,694.

Royal also challenged Sarkozy to relese his own tax records, something he said he will do soon. What I find odd about this is actually the fact that speaking of money is so taboo, especially on the left. The article states that,

"Money is a particularly sensitive subject for left-wing politicians in France, who are often branded “gauche caviar”, or champagne socialists, if they are seen as better off than most French people."

Quite the opposite, the US senate is often nicknamed the millionaires club for the wealth of its members, and US presidential candidates are usually quick to release records in order to quell any speculation. As a sidenote, a new website entitled Bill Gates for President is currently trying to drum up support for the world's richest man to run in the upcoming '08 US election. One of their main reasons in support of a Gates candidacy is that he could easily finance his own campaign, leaving him free of debts to special interest groups. Hopefully money isn't taboo conversation in his house.

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35 hrs of Royal

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has expanded upon previous statements over the 35 hour work week, saying that there needs to be more flexibility.

"It is necessary to give agility to the companies in particular those which are confronted with international competition or the small companies which are being created to be formed and in which there absolutely needs agility.

I will make so that the 35 hours reform is done in the interest of the economic development and the economic competitiveness of the companies."

Royal was also asked if she would make cuts in the civil service, a pledge that Nicolas Sarkozy has already made. Royal's reply: "We will see."

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Villepin moves toward Sarkozy

Perhaps feeling his own growing isolation, or perhaps enamored by Nicolas Sarkozy's stirring slogan, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has appeared to be moving toward a position of support of the new UMP candidate.

"In his speech Sunday, Nicolas Sarkozy presented a true vision for France (...) On the bottom, many things were clarified. We have a more precise definition of things than that which we had on Saturday. (...) In the weeks to come, I will have in a spirit of gathering...the unit is the condition of the victory."

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Sarkozy soars after nomination

If anyone had doubts over the bounce Nicolas Sarkozy would receive after his nomination this Sunday, they were just proven wrong. In a poll taken this Monday, Nicolas Sarkozy would beat Socialist candidate Segolene Royal 52% to 48%, a sizeable change considering Royal has been slightly ahead the past few months. The real question now will be whether or not he can turn this short term "surge" into votes this spring.

The other big winner of this new poll was UDF candidate Francois Bayrou, who defeated National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen 12% to 10%. If this reversal holds, the danger of Le Pen reaching the second round will fade and Bayrou may be in a better position to join the newly elected government.

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