Paris, November 27, 2012 – France has a double crisis. Its ruling political party, François Hollande’s Socialists, is in a state of catatonia, usually defined as a condition of incoherence with alternate periods of stupor and activity. More below about that.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing opposition party is suffering a leadership battle leading towards total collapse. His UMP party, remote organizational descendant of the Gaullist movement, has come a long way from its origins. When President Sarkozy’s government rejoined the military side of NATO, the ground above Charles deGaulle’s grave in the churchyard of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises in Normandy was seen to move, as the general shifted in his coffin.
Spiritually, the UMP now has nothing to do with Gaullism. It is a classic right-wing party representing business and conservative interests, which found Nicolas Sarkozy difficult to digest because of his unchecked ambitions, new-rich friends, self-promotion and rampant activism, all of which contributed to his victory but also his growing unpopularity in office, and ultimate defeat last spring. His actual record as president was a creditable one with major accomplishments, and now the party misses him.
Oh how it misses him! If he should change his mind and choose to run again in 2017, tears of gratitude would flood the party headquarters. But will he? And if not him, who? That is the question.
There are two men who want to become president of the party, which they think the road to the presidency of the Republic, since they expect the Socialists to lose in 2017. One is the former prime minister, Francis Fillon, an able and attractive man with a Welsh wife. The other presided over the UMP while Sarkozy occupied the presidential palace, Jean François Copé. He is a self-consciously tough-guy politician, who reminds me of the Romanian Securitate people who once followed me around the Ceausescus’ Bucharest. (You can see that I am no impartial observer.) He in fact is of Romanian origin.
The two have just competed in a referendum for the party presidency. Both claim to have won. Copé, who controls the party machinery, rejected Fillon’s calls for a recount. Then ballots were found that had not been counted. Fillon said they made him the winner. Copé said the opposite. Sixty-seven percent of the party members said they wanted a new vote. Sarkozy contacted the two rivals and told them to settle this. They haven’t. Fillon has now said he will form a new parliamentary group (an embryonic new party) unless there is a second election. Copé again has refused.
The game is extremely important because political parties are subsidized by the state according to their number of registered adherents. If Fillon goes ahead, the UMP will lose three million euros! France is riveted by the drama. Or at least the UMP members are. For those of us who are cool observers of the strife, it has all been good fun.
Next, about the drama on the left. After the sexwreck of Dominic Strauss Kahn’s presidential hopes last year, the Socialist Party chose as alternative the party’s secretary general, François Hollande, a pudgy, round-faced veteran party functionary deeply lacking in public personality (although said to be very amusing in private). He campaigned to become a “normal” president – meant as a slur on his bling-bling rival, President Sarkozy. “Normality” is the least of Hollande’s problems. He is excessively normal. His most serious problem (other than his tactless paramour, who moved to the presidential palace with him), is his lack of a serious program.
He campaigned on a promise to sock the rich, a Socialist wish-list of economic reforms of the neo-capitalist global order, and interest-group social initiatives, mostly of feminist and LGBT origin. (“Lesbian-Gay-Bi-Trans” for the unworldly – more franglais from America.)
President Hollande’s economic proposals have upset the corporate community, caused a large slice of the rich to flee to Brussels or London, and (most recently) intimidated foreign investors with an implausible threat of nationalizations. France has lost its AAA international credit ratings (for those who still take the credit agencies seriously). On all of these points he has by now backed down, equivocated, or repudiated cabinet ministers who talk too much.
He promised “marriage for all” -- complete with adopted children and medically-assisted birth for Lesbian couples. This prospect has proven enormously complicated legally and bureaucratically (think of all those French state documents and archives requiring names of husbands, fathers, mothers, grandparents, etc.). More important, homosexual adoptions are opposed by some half the French public (53% by the latest IFOP poll; 50% by BVA; both up from last month). President Hollande is already backing and filling on this issue too, on which there have been major street demonstrations of opposition.
Homosexual marriage itself is not the problem. The law already offers a legal association for unmarried couples that provides the tax, social security, pension and inheritance advantages of marriage; but many seem determined to have the white veil, rice shower and Mendelssohn as well. Hollande has said that mayors who do not wish to perform such marriages can appoint a substitute.
Adoption is the big, big problem, and it is not just the churches and synagogues (and mosques) that object, but many psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors and social professionals -- as well as many individuals who have adopted or been adopted.
Adoption produces deep trauma of identity and family. This is a profoundly serious matter. To again demonstrate my personal partiality, I believe it unacceptable to impose upon a vulnerable infant the lifelong personal, psychological and social handicaps of single-sex parentage -- however benign the intentions.
The proposed legislation to allow it has polarized opinion and called into question Hollande’s leadership on other of the social reforms upon which he was elected. The matter is currently being debated in the Chamber of Deputies.
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