Sunday, November 26, 2006

French 2007 Presidential Elections: Hello Again, Monsieur Le Pen

The slate is just beginning to warm up for the April 22, 2007 Presidential first round. The results will be very important in determining the future of France's republican democracy, and hence of its economy, its social stability, and its adhesion to the European Union, or at least to the EU's stated goals and principles.

The Left

segolene royal
[Thanks to for the photo.]

The socialist left is united behind the Lady in White, Segolene Royal. Ms. Royal loves to address her constituency as "les militants." She has yet to define her platform in great detail, but we can glean what her party intends in the following sentence from the Socialist Party website (my translation):

"In deference to the values of democratic socialism, we want to rely on the power of government, the State, local associations, but even more on the citizens and social forces, to reign in capitalism and delimit the market to the economic sphere, combat inequality, redistribute wealth, preserve ecological balance -- in one word, transform society."

Hm. No small ambition.

On the economic front, which I believe to be the foundation of any successful society, they do not bring much specificity to their economic platform, either on their site or anywhere else that I've seen or heard to date. It seems these petty details will be ironed out in 2007 (before or after the elections?) through a "National Conference" of the various social partners, "to define general orientation and specific proposals concerning employment, salaries, work conditions and the nature of the social safety net, in both the private and public sectors." This vagueness is not very reassuring to me, but perhaps it will suffice for the fervent and religiously faithful militant leftist voter base.

Basically, we can assume what they want to do is re-nationalize the privatized industries and re-instate job and salary guarantees, i.e. undo all the hard work of the present government to disassemble these corporate and labor straightjackets. French businesses need to become more competitive, so they can hire more freely and get all those unemployed "hooligans" off the street; but the left doesn't agree with the present administration's free-market policies. The details of the left's alternative top-down cure-all will be debated in the above-mentioned national conferences. (More haze, at least up to this point.)

The Right

The right (or what the French call the right, which is more like the cent... no, actually in France it's just a little right of left) is less unified. You have (1) President Chirac, who may run for a third term (some say to avoid prosecution for a few alleged criminal dealings while he was mayor of Paris, but in fact Chirac has already covered that base by appointing an important and friendly judge to the pertinent position); (2) Nicolas Sarkozy, Chirac's feisty and well-spoken Minister of the Interior, who seems to have outshined Chirac's Prime Minister De Villepin through his aggressive national security measures and more open and hip marketing to France's younger voters; and (3) Francois Bayrou, running for a more centrist party and trying to capitalize on government corruption on both left and right. (My sentimental favorite, Edouard Fillias of the "Alternative Liberale" -- "liberale" in the classic-economic sense, i.e. an equivalent of our Libertarian Party -- doesn't have a chance in hell, in spite of their youth, enthusiasm, amazing lucidity, and courage.)

Monsieur Sarkozy seems to be the frontrunner.

nicolas sarkozy
[Thanks to for the photo.]

The Others (of which there are many)

There are in all thirty-something candidates so far, all over the spectrum. The dark horse will probably be the delightful and scary Monsieur Le Pen of the controversial and allegedly fascist-leaning National Front Party, who surprised everyone last time by coming in second in the first round, in front of the then-ruling socialists.

This year, there is a concerted effort by the powers that be to keep him off the ballot through pretty murky methods, in order to avoid another such surprise. This time, Mr. Le Pen will probably be required to obtain 500 official government dignitaries' signatures to sanction his candidacy, and the present administration is threatening to make these signatures public. He claims that few officials now in office will dare to sign openly for him in view of the obvious conflict of interest.

jean-marie le pen
[Thanks to for the photo.]

In spite of a lack of visibility, due to the media's self-imposed censorship, Monsieur Le Pen is already at something like 17% in the polls according to a story. The effort to silence him has backfired, of course, and his popularity is rising. In the 2002 elections, his poll figure was around 9% at this juncture, so he's off to a good start.

Even though the other two frontrunners are ahead of him in the polls so far, I would not underestimate him; he's an eloquent, witty, astute politician, albeit a bit decrepit at 78. He zeros in on the other candidates' weaknesses. His verb is acute and his reflexes alive and well, in spite of a minor hearing deficiency. He also has a daughter who has inherited his qualities and his politics.

The progression of his popularity over the years, probably paralleling the public's increasing perception of what we could label a xenophobically fused "crime/immigration problem," can be visualized nicely here.

This will be a fun ride.

For an interesting expose of why socialism is not a good thing, readers can refer to the Austrian economist von Hayek's work, The Road to Serfdom. A simplified Reader's Digest version can be found here. You can also download a longer RD excerpted version, complete with cartoon illustrations, here.


Blogger Boz said...

I agree with your view that the left has given few clear ideas on how they are going to deal with the French economic problems, but they have given a fewproposals. Increase the monthly minimum wage, increase public research spending, abolish exceptions to the 35-hour work week. Royal has also vowed to provide funding for young entrepreneurs in the poor suburbs. Whether those policies will do anything for the economy is a different question.

6:39 PM  

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