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That last line is a killer

Editorial comment from today's Financial Times behind the cut for those interested.

Stalemate in France

De Villepin has lost everyone's confidence except Chirac's


As was once said of former British prime minister John Major but is even more apt of Dominique de Villepin, France's prime minister, he is in office but not in power.  He has lost virtually everyone's confidence, except, so far, that of the one man who can fire him: his president and long-time patron, Jacques Chirac.  They both now chalk up less than 25 per cent approval in the opinion polls.  The strain is showing in Mr. de Villepin.  Last week he lost his temper with the Socialist opposition leader in parliament and sued the journalist authors of two recent books about his involvement in the Clearstream affair.

In his latest setback, Mr. de Villepin has been forced by his own UMP party to postpone until autumn legislation to privatise Gaz de France.  This is required under the prime minister's plan to bolt the state-controlled utility on to Suez (in order to save the latter from succumbing to foreign takeover).  The delay reduces the chances of the controversial legislation passing as next year's presidential election draws nearer.  But Mr. de Villepin had no choice.  The bulk of the UMP party, led by his rival Nicolas Sarkozy, have had their fill of a prime minister who was sprung on them less than a year ago by Mr. Chirac and who in turn has sprung unwelcome legislative ideas on them.

Compounding France's current confusion are the flaws and fault-lines inherent in the country's political system.  One is the ideological fuzziness of political parties which chiefly function as personal vehicles for presidential candidates.  This is particularly true of the UMP neo-Gaullists, who never seem to be able to occupy a fixed position on the left-right spectrum and therefore drift all over the place.  GdF is a case in point.  As part of his autarchic plan to build a national energy champion Mr. de Villepin wants to privatise it.  This plan is resisted by his supposedly more free-market rival, Mr. Sarkozy, who two years ago promised the GdF unions that the state stake in the utility would never fall below 70 per cent.  But some in the opposition are also cutting their moorings; the Socialist presidential frontrunner, Ségolène Royal, is currently outflanking Mr. Sarkozy on the right on law-aqnd-order issues.  Such shifts could be welcomed as useful pragmatism if they were not so patently personal opportunitism.

Some of the anti-Villepin group in the UMP are also starting to complain about the fifth republic's subordination of parliament to the monarchical presidency.  Unfortunately, such gripes are mainly the result of the war within the UMP to succeed Mr. Chirac, and are most unlikely to lead to any necessary recasting of France's institutions.  Unless or until that happens, the president remains boss and the prime minister his creature.  Changing the monkey - replacing Mr. de Villepin as prime minister - would still leave Mr. Chirac grinding the organ and calling the tune for one more year.

And before anyone complains about this: "... Mr. de Villepin has been forced by his own UMP party ...", the writer didn't have a lot of space to work with, and I'm sure he knew that the people likely to read the piece would understand the actual Villepin - UMP relationship.  Anyone else would see nothing amiss in the comment, and would probably consider the fuller explanation TMI (too much information).

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
oogata
Jun. 27th, 2006 12:24 am (UTC)
DeVillepin should probably resign - you can't have a prime minister who is constantly being undermined and humiliated by the party that should be supporting him - and it would be much better for him to leave with some dignity rather than to be dragged out kicking and screaming. (maybe he could work in Moscow as a consultant?)

aswanargent
Jun. 27th, 2006 12:58 pm (UTC)
If he tried to resign, I wonder if Chirac would accept his resignation. Being PM seems to be a fairly thankless job at the moment; if Dominique left, who would Jacques find to replace him given the current political climate, escially with elections less than a year away? And I don't know that resignation helps Dominique. That just gives people the opportunity to say he's a quitter, a coward who runs away when things get difficult. Or they accuse him of being a spoiled child who takes his ball and goes home in a fit of pique when things don't go his way. Maybe it's better for him to stay and force Jacques to fire him, then leave with a sad smile, projecting an air of quiet martyrdom, of being misunderstood, but willing to sacrifice his vision of what France could become for the good of Jacques and the party. He goes off to write or paint in splendid isolation while waiting for the country to see what a mistake it was to have forced him out, and come begging him to return and take charge. Churchill redux, perhaps.
jenni_snake
Jul. 1st, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with Karen - it's a case of being between a rock and a hard place (and likely Chirac wouldn't let him go). But I think a consulting job could very well be found for him in Moscow, somewhere... ;-)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )