segunda-feira, 21 de novembro de 2016

La disruption in France: Right hardens, Center sinks, Left laments / François Fillon, Thatcherite with a thing for Russia

La disruption in France: Right hardens, Center sinks, Left laments
François Fillon’s surprise win on Sunday casts new light on the race to be president.

By PIERRE BRIANÇON 11/21/16, 5:42 PM CET Updated 11/21/16, 6:41 PM CET

PARIS — France’s presidential contenders were scrambling Monday to make sense of the magnitude of dark horse François Fillon’s victory in the first round of the conservative Les Républicains’ party primary.

While the center Right was contemplating its possible demise, the center-left — so far represented by former economy minister Emmanuel Macron — hoped to appeal to voters repulsed by Fillon’s hard-line social and cultural policies.

The Socialists, in disarray, tried to gauge whether Fillon would be an easier foe for President François Hollande, should he decide to run again. And the far-right National Front played up its differences with Fillon, in case its own supporters were tempted to look at him more closely — and more favorably.

In other words, just 1.8 million voters — the number who voted for Fillon — brought serious disruption to a French presidential race that was only beginning to make sense.

The first major victim of Sunday’s stunner was Alain Juppé, the former prime minister who had been favorite until a few days before the vote and was confident in the electorate’s desire for a safe pair of hands. He now faces an uphill battle after Nicolas Sarkozy, conceding defeat, backed Fillon in the second round saying “whatever the differences” they have had, Fillon “understands France’s challenges” better than Juppé.

To clinch the nomination, Fillon needs only to convince a third of Sarkozy’s first-round supporters. A poll published Sunday night saw him winning by 56 percent to Juppé’s 44 percent in next Sunday’s playoff.

The Juppé camp affected serenity on Monday. “This can be overcome within a week, it’s doable,” said one aide, identifying the weaknesses in Fillon’s platform as his radical plan to overhaul the public sector and enthusiasm for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The key question is whether people whose motivation for voting on Sunday was to get rid of Sarkozy — as many as 42 percent, according to one poll — will turn out in the second round. “Fillon doesn’t trigger the same tension as Sarkozy did among centrist voters,” said Bruno Jeanbart of polling firm OpinionWay.

Polls estimate that 12 to 15 percent of participants in Sunday’s primary were Socialist sympathizers who may believe it is “mission accomplished” now that Sarkozy is out of the race. If they stay away in the second round, that could ensure Fillon an impressive win.

However, it is also possible that the first-round’s high turnout, with more than 4 million voters in the first-ever primary election for the French Right, will encourage even more people to turn out next Sunday, said Jeanbart.

Status quo, or backwards

Another first-round victim of the conservative primary is Macron, the former Hollande cabinet minister courting the same centrist, pro-reform segment of the electorate as Juppé. Like Juppé, he is one of France’s most popular politicians but must face up to the fact that popularity means nothing if it doesn’t translate into votes, as the centrist space of France’s political life seems to be disappearing.

Macron told Le Monde on Monday that the Right’s remaining two candidates presented a choice between “the status quo [Juppé] and going backwards [Fillon]” — a reference to Fillon’s conservative stance on social issues such as gay marriage. “Who can these guys turn to now? Certainly not Fillon, who’s an arch-conservative on social matters,” said one Macron adviser.

Macron’s fate, however, will be determined by what happens in the Socialist camp, which had bet on Sarkozy as an easier rival in next year’s presidential contest. In a now infamous book of interviews with Le Monde reporters, Hollande had confidently forecast that “Fillon has no chance” in the conservative primary.

Hollande’s last sliver of hope is that moderate and left-wing voters will cling to him if the contest shapes up as a duel between the hard Right (Fillon) and far Right (Marine Le Pen).
The Hollande team was attempting on Monday to spin the conservatives’ first-round result as proof that polls don’t mean much six months before an election. Fillon was polling at around 5 percent in voter intentions for the primaries back in the summer. That’s close to the 6 percent of voters who believe Hollande is doing a good job, according to polls.

But the French president must also ponder a stark message: Sarkozy’s surprise elimination in the first round gives him another reason to think carefully before running in January’s Socialist primary — a decision he must make by December 15. As one Socialist apparatchik put it on Monday: “The largest party in France by far is the party of those who want to send their last two presidents home and forget about them.”

Hollande’s last sliver of hope is that moderate and left-wing voters will cling to him if the contest shapes up as a duel between the hard Right (Fillon) and far Right (Marine Le Pen). But the many contenders from the Left already lining up against him make that possibility remote. Outside of the Socialist Party, leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the current poll favorite; inside the party, former Hollande ministers Benoît Hamon and Arnaud Montebourg seem determined to fight him to the end.

Macron, for his part, reiterated Monday his intention not to run in the Socialist primary, but to fight it alone all the way to the election. If Hollande decides not to run, his current prime minister, Manuel Valls, is warming up as substitute, but he is almost as unpopular as the president and like him has little chance of making it past the first round of the election next April.

The final collateral victim of Sunday’s vote may be Marine Le Pen, who remains confident of making it to May’s second round. She faces competition from Fillon on her core issues: Islam, immigration and school reforms. So the Front has begun counterattacking against Fillon’s economic platform, with deputy FN leader Florian Philippot accusing him of planning “incredible violence” against French workers.

Front leaders are also reminding French voters that Fillon was prime minister for Sarkozy’s entire five-year term — which may give the ousted Sarkozy a cameo role in next year’s general election.

François Fillon, Thatcherite with a thing for Russia

He’s quiet, has bold, sometimes controversial ideas and could well be the next French president.

By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 11/21/16, 7:25 PM CET Updated 11/21/16, 10:05 PM CET

PARIS — Call it Droopy’s revenge.

For five years, former French prime minister François Fillon worked obediently in the shadow of a man who mocked him as a “loser” in private and once berated him publicly as a mere “collaborator.” Nobody cared much about Fillon, because he was there to carry out the bidding of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Now Fillon has dealt Sarkozy’s career a possibly fatal blow by knocking him out of the conservative primary. The man whose phlegmatic demeanor earned him the nickname “Droopy” pulled off a stunning comeback Sunday to become clear favorite in the primary’s final round on November 27. Next May, he may well end up as France’s next president.

All of a sudden, the world wants to know: Who is this quiet man with bushy eyebrows who has suddenly burst into the limelight?

As Fillon’s ideas and policy prescriptions become known, everyone from French voters who backed him on a hunch to policy analysts in Washington may be in for a surprise. Far from being gray, Fillon is a politician who wants radical change — with plans sure to ruffle feathers at home and abroad if he is elected president.

It is in this respect, in calling for a reset of France’s international alliances, that Fillon stands apart from Juppé.
He is the most economically liberal candidate the French Right has put forward since Sarkozy’s 2007 run, perhaps going back even further. He is a staunch social conservative and practising Catholic who wants to ban adoption for gay couples. Perhaps of greater concern to Washington and other European powers, he is a tireless defender of Russia who blames the West for having provoked Moscow into lashing out against Ukraine.

In short, François Fillon is a man who, if elected, may well carry out his campaign vow to “Bring down the house” — for better or worse.

Thatcher’s man in France

But first, there is the man himself. A commonly repeated refrain about 62-year-old Fillon is that he is basically an Englishman who happens to have been born in France. There is some truth to this.

Favoring bespoke suits and expensive Italian shoes, Fillon is a notoriously careful dresser who has moments of British exuberance (see his red socks from Italy’s Gammerelli, provider to the Pope). Married to a Welsh woman, he speaks serviceable if strongly accented English, and enjoys the country life, indulging “sporting man” obsessions for car racing. In public his manner is dry, understated, at times cutting.

But by far the most English thing about Fillon is his economic outlook. A proud admirer of Margaret Thatcher — he told the Financial Times in November he wanted a “showdown” with unions — Fillon wants to inflict the sort of tough love treatment on France that generations of French leaders have avoided due to fear of backlash in the streets and polling stations.

Instead of sugar-coating his ideas, he has taken the opposite tack, warning voters that this is going to hurt.

Only on Europe does Fillon differ with Thatcher. Proposing an overhaul of institutions, he wants to form a eurozone government, integrate EU defense capabilities and beef up protection of exterior borders.

So far, his approach has worked wonders. Fillon may have intuited that France, as some polls have indicated, is in fact desperate for reform. But there is a difference between wanting and getting, especially when he proposes to slash public spending by €100 billion and cull 500,000 civil servant jobs, far more than any of his rivals.

When such hardline proposals, which also include abolishing the 35-hour work week, become better known by the general public, then Fillon will face a backlash. It will, almost certainly, be a very broad one that stimulates everyone from Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, himself a presidential hopeful, to the statist leader of the National Front party, Marine Le Pen.

“He is Thatcher and Reagan wrapped into one,” Bertrand Dutheil de la Rochère, a National Front cadre, said Monday.

Former French Prime Ministers and UMP right-wing opposition party politicians Alain Juppe (R) and Francois Fillon confer during a campaign meeting | Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty
Former French Prime Ministers and UMP right-wing opposition party politicians Alain Juppe (R) and Francois Fillon confer during a campaign meeting | Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty
Alain Juppé, Fillon’s opponent next Sunday, is also primed to attack his Thatcherism. Already, the 71-year-old mayor of Bordeaux has criticized Fillon’s economic plan as the “least credible” of any in the conservative field, an absurd wish-list belied by a weak track record of reform during five years under Sarkozy.

Expect Juppé, who is pushing a more cautious agenda, to raise the volume on those attacks before the primary’s final round next Sunday.

The Catholics’ choice

If Fillon’s philo-Thatcherism is well-known, his close ties to elements of France’s traditional Catholic Right are less so. Yet they help to explain why Fillon was able to outperform last Sunday, and give a hint of what sort of president he could be.

Unlike Juppé or Sarkozy, Fillon early on voiced support for an anti-gay marriage movement known as “la Manif Pour Tous” (“The Rally for All,” a deformation of the gay marriage law named “Marriage for All”).

Several aspirants to the presidency, including Sarkozy, have called for dialogue with Russia and made ceremonial visits to see Putin.
This won Fillon the backing of a Catholic current of the Républicain party named “Sens Commun” (“Common Sense”) that provided legions of campaign volunteers in France’s traditional western regions. In return, Fillon rewarded his Catholic backers with the most socially conservative agenda of any candidate.

While he does not want to repeal gay marriage, which was voted into law in 2012, he has vowed to ban adoption for gay couples. He is also against medically assisted procreation for female couples and for a universal ban on surrogate mothers. In an open letter to Catholic bishops in October, Fillon said the family was at the “heart” of his political project, vowing to raise public benefits for large families.

“We welcome with great joy François Fillon’s clear qualification to the second round of the primary for the Center and the Right,” Sens Commun cheered in a statement late Sunday.

Fillon’s religious bent also colors the way he thinks and talks about terrorism. The practice of Islam needs to be “controlled” and mosques’ financing “rendered transparent” to avoid a “clash of civilizations” on French soil, he told the Catholic website Famille Chrétienne.

In his book “Vaincre le totalitarisme islamique“ (“Defeating Islamic Totalitarianism”) published in September, Fillon wrote that France was “at war” with radical Islam, and called for tough measures such as taking away convicted terrorists’ French nationality. “With the Islamic State we have entered a different universe,” he wrote.

In order to defeat ISIL, Fillon argues that France must rid itself of diplomatic taboos — notably the one that stops Paris from forming an alliance with Moscow and Tehran.

For Russia, with love

It is in this respect, in calling for a reset of France’s international alliances, that Fillon stands apart from Juppé.

Several aspirants to the presidency, including Sarkozy, have called for dialogue with Russia and made ceremonial visits to see Putin. But none has been as consistently and staunchly pro-Russian as Fillon since he left office in 2012, though he rejects the description that he is Putin’s “friend.”

Tirelessly, on radio shows and TV panels, Fillon comes to Russia’s defense. When Russian-backed troops were sneaking into eastern Ukraine, he argued that it was mostly Russian-speaking and more or less belonged to Moscow. When the West imposed sanctions on Moscow over the annexation of Crimea, he called them “negative” and demanded they be lifted. When Russia went into Syria to assist President Bashar Assad, he brushed off human rights violations and pressed for Europeans to join an alliance with Iran, Syria and Russia against ISIL.

During the U.S. election campaign, some Western officials expressed concern about Donald Trump’s warm words for Putin. Not so Fillon, who said: “I do not fear [a Putin-Trump alliance]. I wish for it.”

Meanwhile, he has harsh words for NATO, accusing Western powers of provoking Russia by expanding too close to its borders. Denouncing “American imperialism,” he wants the euro to become a reserve currency to rival the U.S. dollar and the Japanese yen.

Sem comentários: