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Saturday, 21 September 2013

A prime ministerial week in French politics - present, past

Bienvenue! to another look back at a week in French politics and as you can see from the title, the focus this time around is on prime ministers.

Before plunging head first into the "news" though, a few words on the position itself.

It's an odd sort of role in France because it's the president who gets to appoint (and sack) the person he thinks is the best man (or on one occasion, woman) for the job.

He (or she) has to come from the majority party in parliament . That's why there have been three periods of so-called "cohabitation" since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958 when the prime minister and president have come from different parties.

But the position doesn't have to go to the leader of the majority party.

Had that been the case after the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, François Hollande would have chosen Martine Aubry to be prime minister.

Perish the thought!

In fact, rare though it might be, the job doesn't even have to be given to an elected representative.

During his second term as president, for example, Jacques Chirac appointed career diplomat Dominique de Villepin as prime minister for two years.

Sometimes viewed as playing second fiddle to the president, the holder of the office of prime minister is (quoting from the constitution here) charged with "directing the actions of the government, being responsible for national defence and ensuring the implementation of legislation."

And oh yes, if you happen to be Jean-Marc Ayrault, practising the art of the Coué method.

Which brings us nicely to the end of the potted (with cavernous gaps admittedly) overview and allows us to get cracking with the news.

Where better to start (although you could probably think of one) than with Ayrault himself.

In an interview with the regional daily Presse-Océan - which just happens to cover the city of Nantes, where he was mayor for 23 years (ah, can't you just hear the echoes of Arnaud Montebourg's cutting comment that Ayrault "ran the country as though it were a local council"?) the prime minister was in...well...almost "Spice Boy" mode.

Yes, he seemed to have taken a little too literally the lyrics of Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary and Sporty's 1997 hit "Spice up your life" with an "all you need is positivity" approach.

"There are positive signs that the economy is recovering," he told the paper.

"And we must do everything we can to encourage it because our priority has to be employment."

Oh change the record M. Ayrault.

Speaking of which, do you fancy some music?



Ah. That's better. Don't you all feel full of "positivity" now?

Well you'll need to if you're going to understand what's happening with the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

It managed to spend the first part of the week tying itself into knots over which political direction it would or wouldn't take rather than fulfilling its role as a credible opposition.

François Fillon (screenshot BFM TV report)

And it was all down to François Fillon, Ayrault's predecessor at the Matignon.

He dropped a bit of a bombshell at the weekend saying that in next year's municipal elections, UMP supporters should vote for the "least sectarian" candidate in the second round if the party's candidate didn't make it through and it came to a straight run-off between the far-right Front National and the Socialist party.


What the heck was he saying?

Break with the party's policy of urging supporters to vote for neither or was he actually shifting his position?

Nobody really seemed to know and the party went into headless chicken mode as its leaders assembled to clarify policy - all agreeing that the "neither nor" strategy was the one to be followed.

Fillon even appeared in front of the cameras afterwards to repeat that he had "always been against an alliance of any sort with the FN and it had been something he had fought against all his political life" and "he had no intention of changing his position."

Fillon: "j'ai toujours combattu les alliances... par BFMTV

So. What was he up to?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the grass roots support there is among UMP party  members for some of the FN's policies.

As revealed in a poll at the beginning of the week, over 70 per cent "agreed" with what Fillon had apparently said and were in favour of the FN being considered as a "normal" party.

Also, let's not forget that Fillon is campaigning to be his party's candidate in the 2017 presidential election.

By creating a "buzz", he had not only proven himself a little less colourless than some might have thought, but had made life a little more difficult for the party's leader, Jean-François Copé.

Yes, Fillon looks set to continue with his operation "Stir everything up" for the next...three years.


So that's present and past dealt with. What about the future?

Well, there was bad news of sorts for the man tipped by many (including himself) to be a future prime minister (president and master of the universe), Manuel Valls.

The interior minister is no longer the country's favourite politician.

In the monthly (yes, these things really are produced that frequently) poll Ipsos conducts for Le Point on political popularity (rather like a hit parade but without the moo-sick) Alain Juppé (a past, past prime minister among many other things) ranked Number One with a song taken from his most recent album "I'm really the man who should be president but I prefer sitting on the sidelines and appearing all statesman-like".

Valls meanwhile, who had been Top of the Pops since October 2012, slipped a place without blowing so much as a gasket.

Now, if, for some peculiar reason, you would like to follow the progression (or otherwise) of your (least) favourite French politician from month to month, you can check out the baromètre de l'action politique Ipsos / Le Point here.

And finally - because it's just too difficult to resist - François Hollande's interview on TF1 with Claire interpreted by those folk over at Les Guignols de l'Info over at Canal +.

screenshot from Les Guignols video

Take the recent chart-topping hit single (yes music has been rather a laboured leitmotif during this piece) "Papaoutai" (Friday's French music break a couple of weeks ago) from Belgian singer-songwriter Stromae, fiddle with the lyrics and put them in the mouth of Hollande's puppet et...voilà "Emploioutai"

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

And that seems a suitable point at which to wish you a great weekend.

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