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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

January 10, 2007

Elysée election: early result

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And the new president of France is Ségolène Royal.



Photograph by: PS Clichy sous Bois.



Don't just listen to me. Ségo's election in May, it seems, is the logical extension of claims by Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-Right Front National, that he will again make it through to the final round of the race - to face her in the deciding poll.

You would have to take a very dim view of the French to believe that given such a choice, more than a small minority of them would vote for Le Pen.

He naturally takes a different view. And there is some evidence that the opinion polls, which currently give his party only 15-17 per cent of popular support, consistently under-estimate his electoral pull.

But can Le Pen really hope to split the centre-Right vote to such an extent that Nicolas Sarkozy is eliminated in the first round as the socialist candidate Lionel Jospin was in 2002?

As a foreign observer of French politics who identified the presidential potential of Mme Royal some time before most, I am naturally pleased to see my instincts being vindicated.

She has a lead in the national polls, at least on first round voting intentions, and so far seems capable of making light of perceived weaknesses and gaffes.

With her radical - and, says the centre-Right, unworkable - ideas for helping the SDFs (France's great army of homeless people who have been turned into an early election issue), she has even begun to sound a little more Left wing.

This will satisfy some of the doubters in her own Parti Socialiste, who worried about her penchant for New Labour tactics with a French accent, appealing to middle France voters just as Tony Blair once offered olive branches to middle England.

And she has also managed to sound a little more Chiracien, with her echoes during her visit to China of his mantra that the world needs counterbalances to American superpower dominance. This, in turn, will please parts of la France profonde that still approve of the kind of France Jacques Chirac represents, if not of the man himself.

I loved that quote spotted by one of my readers, Richard of Orléans, to the effect that it was a big mistake to think of her as nice but unintelligent when she was in reality highly intelligent but not very nice.

But it won't harm her; in the end, I suspect a lot of French people sympathise with her riposte that what critics see as faults in her - her steeliness and ambition -would be considered virtues in a man.

If I am determined to rule out Le Pen's chances of bringing everlasting shame to France by reaching the Elysée, I am not wavering in my belief that M Sarkozy remains a massive obstacle to Mme Royal (and, of course, to M Le Pen's unappealing prediction).

Sarko will be formally installed as the UMP candidate this weekend and we will then see his campaign enter a much more urgent phase.

He is more than a match for Mme Royal in political debate, though his own female supporters have already urged him to avoid being seen as macho and sexist in his clashes with her.

When he talks about immigration and crime, and backs his words with firm action, he clearly impresses large numbers of voters and speaks their language.

Across the south of France from Marseilles to the Italian border, a new poll suggests, he is way ahead of both the socialists and Le Pen.

Questions have been asked this week about his dual role, candidate and minister (not forgetting that as well as being interior minister, the equivalent of the British Home Secretary, he is No 2 to Dominique de Villepin in government).

But he can be expected to stand down soon as France No 1 Cop - that's how the press likes to describe the interior minister - to concentrate on getting into the Elysée.

De Villepin has said he will not give his formal support to Sarko, but this is no surprise. Usually, of course, they don't even seem to belong to the same party, let alone work together in the top two Cabinet roles.

Since de Villepin notoriously is not even an elected politican, the absence of an endorsement from him will inflict little or no damage on the Sarko campaign. Nor will there be much fall-out from President Chirac's constant put-downs of his interior minister's more robust approach to solving France's problems.

But what of M Chirac's own immediate plans? Until quite recently, he was widely seen as an elderly man going through the motions of seeing out his final months of presidency, moreover a presidency judged by most to have been an abject failure.

In his New Year messages, however, he has taken to making what sound very much like declarations of intent for a further five-year mandate. His stance on the war in Iraq has increasingly been lauded as a rare success of his time as head of state.

Surely the very idea of him standing for a third term of office remains preposterous.

Maybe. But it has been treated by some commentators and political reporters in recent weeks as if well within the bounds of possibility.

The UMP, broadly, doesn't want him, nor does the public. But can we yet be sure? Le Figaro suggested the other day that he was talking up his programme of action for France's future as if he saw himself as the man to put it into effect.

M Chirac's wife, Bernadette, enjoyed causing a bit of mischief a month or two back by suggesting that her husband might yet put himself forward again.

And she did little to discourage the speculation when she stonewalled such questions while appearing on peak time television a couple of nights ago.

If, against all logic, he does stand, what banner will he choose? Since Sarko will be the official UMP choice, we could be looking at a One Nation One People contender offering, essentially, more of the same at just the time when France arguably needs something quite different.

Mme Chi-Chi can't or won't say. After insisting, implausibly, that such matters are simply not discussed between husband and wife, she added that Jacques would not even inform her of his decision until the eve of his eventual announcement.

What if he said he was going for it? Could such a step be sufficiently divisive of conservative voters to make the first part of M Le Pen's analysis come true?

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10 Comments:

At January 10, 2007 7:30 PM, Blogger Louise said...

I see you have taken a leaf out of Toby Harnden's latest blog and have announced the winner!! Or loser, as it was in his case...

 
At January 10, 2007 10:21 PM, Anonymous SH said...

Glad to see you returning to more interesting topics than the "Peter Mayle" variety, which although pleasant to read do not give much scope for comment. While it is interesting to note that current opinion polls give the Front National a greater level of public support than at the same time before the last election, it is also important to remember that Le Pen is even older than the current president. Sarkozy has shown that he is capable of taking firm action as regards law and order and illegal immigration and should be able to hold his own against Le Pen in the first round. What about the rumour that Ségolène is another illegitimate daughter of Mitterand? Still, at least she doesn't write novels!

 
At January 11, 2007 7:06 AM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

It’s looking very close between Sarko and Ségo. Who I believe are both excellent candidates. They have their weaknesses, Ségo her lack of experience, Sarko his feet in mouth. The main thing I see at this point is a conscious effort by both politicians and voters to avoid the dispersion of the last election. Certainly the socialists do not want a rerun of last time, where their votes were dispersed in the first round. Notably the JP Chevénement phenomenon. How many far left voters are going to want to vote Sarko because they eliminated Ségo in round one? Voting for Chirac once in their life has probably cured a lot of people’s tendency to wander. But again it is early days and one or two of the minor candidates may yet break through.
I personally think the Le Pen situation is vastly overdone. He had his big chance in the second round of the last election and he couldn’t even pick up all the right wing vote of the first round, it was a no contest with Chirac. So even were he to get through to the second round again, which I doubt, we know he has no potential to go beyond 18-20%

 
At January 11, 2007 3:31 PM, Blogger Thomas R said...

A bloke at work told me he wouldn't vote for either. "Sarko's too short and Ségo's too common!"

What a good job I don't get a vote. I'd have used the completely wrong criteria.

 
At January 11, 2007 4:11 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

One wishes more Americans had used those criteria in the presidential election.

 
At January 13, 2007 4:21 PM, Blogger Icedink said...

Arguably the most interesting contest in politics at the moment, certainly more interesting than the rise of Brown or the fall of Bush. I am agog and impatient for the first round of voting in April.

 
At January 13, 2007 6:47 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

Your right icedink it's fascinating. The common law marriage between the secretary of the socialist party and its candidate is certainly not the least interesting part. Will it stand up to the testing of the election campaign? Or are they playing political games from the boudoir?

The latest element is a public spat over taxation. Hollande saying that the socialists will increase taxation on the 'rich' who take home more than €4000 per month. While Ségo has contradicted him, and appointed her former opponent DSK to advise her on taxation. If it's true and not just a political stunt there should be lots of tension over the Sunday croissant in the Hollande/Royale household

 
At January 13, 2007 9:01 PM, Blogger Icedink said...

Thank you, Richard. Yes, I read something about that yesterday. Doesn't M Hollande want to put off laws that would limit to 60pc the amount of income that an indivual can pay tax on? (I may have that wrong). The figures seemed eye-popping. As to sour faces over the croissant, I bet Sego is pretty tough around the house. Best.

 
At January 13, 2007 10:20 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

Yes icedink, you know we have a wealth tax in France. If you have net assets over £500,000, then you have to pay a % in tax each year. It starts at 0 .5% on the first band and gradually increases thereafter. So if you have £600,000 net assets you have to pay a half % of £100,000 every year ie £500. It becomes very heavy for the super rich, but almost all of them have now left the country (Johnny Halliday was one of the last). It is regardless of whether the assets generate any revenue or not. You have to include your domicile at 80% of its market value. With the explosion in property prices this has lead to some anomalous situations, where old people with practically no revenue have to pay it almost all over in wealth tax.

Most famously the residents of the Isle de Ré. It was, until recently, a small island off the Atlantic coast made up of peasants and fishermen. Then it was connected to the continent by a bridge, became a fashionable holiday resort, and property prices went into the stratosphere. Consequence some poor peasant who spent his life grubbing potatoes is sitting on a fortune. The taxman turns up and says he has to pay all his pittance of a pension over in wealth tax. He could sell up and move to les banlieus, but his family has been on the island for fifteen generations so that is not really an acceptable deal. Equity withdrawal hardly exists in France and would, anyway, be frowned upon.

At the other end of the scale there are truly rich people but who have relatively modest revenue from their assets (which may be vineyards, estates, or family companies etc. which are not generating great revenue). Upshot, they also are paying almost all their income in tax. As a result the owners may be forced to sell their company, vineyard, estate etc. to some foreigner who subsequently restructures the business and fires the employees.

The solution dreamt up by the government is the “bouclier fiscal”, which starts in 2007 and says that the combined total of income tax, wealth tax and property tax can’t exceed 60 % of your income. Result, we are all busy with our tax planners seeking to eliminate all our income.

Yes Hollande wants to scrap it, along with a reduction in income tax that also comes in to force this year.

 
At January 14, 2007 4:16 PM, Anonymous SH said...

Thank you, Richard, for your detailed explanation of the French wealth tax. There is also an article on the subject in today's "Sunday Times", highlighting the problems of those who suddenly find their house or little bit of land has catapulted them into paying a wealth tax through no action of their own. This is indeed iniquitous One would think that if or when the land or residence were sold or inherited by the heirs, the government would then pocket an increased amount of tax and that should compensate for making an exception now in the case of principal residence. French inheritance tax is already pretty high. But then socialism is more about dogma than actually improving peoples' lives. Let's just hope this doesn't give Gordon Brown any more ideas.

 

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