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Political fratricide in France

Political fratricide in France

R. Duvignau/ REUTERS

Since the loss of Nicolas Sarkozy on his bid for reelection at the presidency of France in May 2012 the French right, especially the main party, UMP – Union for a Popular Movement -, has been in disarray. The election for the presidency of the Party of the UMP taking place on November 22, 2012 has split the party in two camps: Jean-François Copé versus François Fillon. The split occurred after the release of the results of the elections for the leadership of the Party. It appears that Mr. Fillon lost with a very narrow margins – losing by 98 votes – due to some irregularities as some ballots from overseas territories weren’t counted. Mr. Fillon has been asking for a recount, opposed by Copé. The threat of an appeal made to a commission is still present and could have heavier consequences on the credibility of the party than the actual outcome of the elections. Both candidates could lose all legitimacy as potential presidential candidate for 2017 and the Party be simply discredited.

Political fratricide in France

UMP photos sur Flickr

Both men have long disliked each others. Jean-François Copé, a fervent adept and protégé of Nicolas Sarkozy, is in the direct continuity of Mr. Sarkozy’s political vision and ideology. Mr. Copé’s vision is to move the center-right party of the UMP into the full right and try to attract the conservative and racist segment of the French electorate. Copé envisions to compete for the voters that would usually be attracted by the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, le Front National. He has been calling for the UMP to become a right wing party “without complexes.” He believes in strengthening French position on immigration and trying to address Muslims presence in France through another round of discussion on the question of national identity. The previous attempt by Nicolas Sarkozy was an abysmal failure.

On the other side, François Fillon, the losing candidate to the presidency of the party, is a much more moderate politician. He is a more subtle politician and a true right-wing centrist. Mr. Fillon has been opposed to the shift of the UMP towards the extreme-right. Mr. Fillon’s political ideology and desire is to move the UMP back to its original Gaullist roots. Fillon is directly aligned with the “Gaullist tradition of conservative values but liberal welfare and immigration policies.” His mandate as Prime Minister from 2007 to 2012 under President Sarkozy has not been as bad considering the success rate of former prime ministers and the over-presence of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Political fratricide in France

Witt / SIPA

The crisis of the French right can be associated to several factors. First, it is directly attributed to Nicolas Sarkozy. Throughout his presidency Mr. Sarkozy has managed to avoid and destroy any types of opposition within his party. The current political and leadership void is so great that such crisis was inevitable. Second, the French ideology of the right is evolving around a seemingly more extremist and conservative electorate. The Front National, extreme right party, has become a real political force in the French political landscape since 2002 in not only attracting voters, but also shaping the agenda. As cited in an article by Ed Cody of the Washington Post, “Its swing to the right has divided it. This is proof that Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat, whose causes nobody on the right wants to analyze, has caused much more damage than the party’s leaders admit.” Ultimately, the current crisis symbolizes the identity crisis of the French right. As underlined in an article in the New York Times,  “the ferocity of the U.M.P.’s civil war has stunned political commentators. Most agreed that the fight would leave lasting scars on the party, which for the last decade has united a vast swath of the political landscape, from the center to the anti-immigrant right. Few, however, were yet prepared to predict the party’s demise.”

This political fratricide is taking place at a time wherein the socialist President, François Hollande, is under heavy domestic and international pressures, and the UMP could play a constructive balance to some of the policies implemented by the Socialists. Domestically, Hollande’ strategy to save France from its debt crisis is based on the so-called “competitiveness pact,” in order to readjust the budget and relaunch growth. This is what French Finance Minister, Pierre Mocovici, has called the “copernican revolution.” However, this comes at a time wherein the IMF, under Christine

Political fratricide in France

AFP Photo / Bertrand Langlois

Lagarde, has issued a worrisome report early November calling France for more rigorous reforms otherwise France could fall into a recession and join the list counting Spain and Italy. Part of the solution to French problems can be found in the Gallois report released early November. Such report was commissioned by President Hollande and endorsed implicitly by the IMF. It underlined important points in order to relaunch economic growth such as: focus on fiscal adjustment in order to boost incentives to work and invest; payroll tax reductions such as tax break; and, changing the ‘cult of regulations.’ Despite low approval ratings, it will take some time before one can judge the impacts of the reforms implemented by President Hollande.

The case of the French right is very similar to the Republican Party in the U.S. Media and polls have described a public opinion that is supposedly becoming more conservative. However, as proven by the 2012 re-election of President Obama, despite a very mix first mandate, and the election of François Hollande, a politician of career with no prior governmental experience, the electorate in both France and the U.S. tend to politically locate itself at the center. Across the pond, the Republican Party feels, in majority, that in order to be victorious in 2016 it will have to shift further to the

Political fratricide in France


right. Many, but not very influential, republicans such as David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, have been calling for a shift back to the middle, allowing the Republican Party to contribute to discussion on abortion, gay rights, immigration, taxation, and finally attract a wider segment of the American electorate rather than majoritarily attracting white, older, and wealthier voters. David Frum describes his party’s ideas as “ever more fantasy-based ideology” due to a lack of understanding of the political, ethnic and cultural shift occurring in the U.S. These political fratricides taking place in France and the U.S. are neither good for the quality of democracy in both countries nor for the image of democracy abroad. They may invigorates partisans of the Democratic Party and Socialist Party and fuel partisan politics, but they fail to address the visceral challenges facing Europe and the United States in need for bipartisan solutions on central issues such as, in the U.S., taxation, immigration and health care reform; and in France, growth and social integration. These fratricides symbolize one thing: the poverty of the political landscape and the lack of political leaders with a clear vision and idea for either country.



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.