Karen (aswanargent) wrote,

  • Mood:

Curiouser and curiouser

An article from Tuesday's Financial Times.  From an American perspective, it seems very odd to see a senior government minister openly attack his own PM this way without apparently feeling any need to resign on principle from the government.  

Nicolas Sarkozy's wolfish grin seems wider than usual.  No doubt he is smiling because of the rapturous welcome at Douai, in northern France, from thousands of supporters as he steps up to deliver a speech on his new slogan "For a Fairer France", marking the start of his campaign for next year's presidential elections.

Yet France's interior minister may also be chuckling as he thinks of prime minister Dominique de Villepin, his main presidential rival on the centre-right, who is preparing to face a "black Tuesday" of strikes and protests, expected to be the toughest test of his premiership.

Spurred on by chants of "Nicolas, Nicolas, Nicolas", the head of the ruling UMP party launches into a high-octane speech for more than an hour, peppered with jibes at Mr. de Villepin for bungling an attempt at loosening France's labour laws to tackle crippling high unemployment.

"We could have avoided this crisis that brings no good to France, its image or its economy," says Mr. Sarkozy, adding that he would have opened a dialogue much earlier with "social partners", unions and business leaders.

His criticism is finely balanced over Mr. de Villepin's controversial first-job contract, which would let companies sack young people more easily during a two-hear trial.  He cannot be too aggressive, as he is a leading supporter of "rupture", or a break with France's over-protective social model.  Too much criticism and he would be seen as not only disloyal to the government of which he is a senior member but also unfaithful to his own beliefs.

Some aides in the "Sarko" camp suspect that Mr. de Villepin may still be hoping that. by sticking to his guns over his unpopular labour reform, he can impose his credentials as a reformer and strengthen his power base on the right.

To combat this risk of being overtaken on the right, Mr. Sarkozy's speech last night at Douai is packed with proposals designed to appeal directly to his core electorate.

Tighter immigration controls, a crackdown on drug users, scrapping inheritance tax, stiffer criminal charges for minors and tax incentives for first-time house buyers are all ideas designed to win over the centre-right voters Mr. Sarkozy needs to see off any challenge from Mr. de Villepin in the first round of the 2007 ballot.

He even reaches out to voters for the far right National Front, saying:  "Stop going towards this dead-end of the National Front, come back to the republican parties, we have woken up and decided to start talking about the subjects that concern you.
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