In choosing François Fillon, an outspoken conservative, as its candidate for next May’s presidential election, the French right is preparing a major change. For decades, since Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, back in the seventies, France has become accustomed to living in a consensus-driven regime where center-right and center-left governments would follow each other with only minor changes between them. On the economy, on social issues and on diplomacy, the policy differences between the social-democrat and the conservative parties have been more of emphasis or degree rather than of substance.
That old consensus doesn’t work. It has allowed the National Front (FN) of the Le Pen family, originally an anti-Semitic and neo-fascist fringe group, to occupy the political space that should belong to the traditional parties and has enabled it to receive the most votes in the country. While it is true that Nicolas Sarkozy did try to stop this momentum, the ex-president’s acts have never been in accord with his flashy statements. This lack of credibility explains his spectacular failure in the first round of the primaries.
Fillon has a natural authority and a personal dignity which contrasts with Sarkozy’s nervousness and flamboyance. His program is actually more radical and can hope to recover the voters that had been attracted by the National Front because they had nowhere else to go. If this proves to be true, it is not so sure that Marine Le Pen will survive the first round of the presidential election, as everybody has been predicting until now. But for this to happen, the left would need to gather behind a strong candidate. Which remains to be seen…
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