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Friday, 6 September 2013

Hey up - a week in French politics with the UMP and Syria, the return of "Sarko boy" and Hollande's unflattering back-to-school photo

A hearty welcome dear reader to another look back at a week in the wonderful  world of French politics.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin.

This week's piece was supposed to be dedicated entirely to the centre-right opposition Union pour un Mouvement (Pauvre) Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) but, quite frankly, its members didn't do or say very much of anything apart from making disunited calls for a debate/vote/clarity on the policy of the French president, François Hollande, to the situation in Syria.

Fat chance.

So to kick things off, the sad news that one of the country's most popular and charismatic ministers is considering retirement.

Well that's the take Le Figaro had from an interview Arnaud Montebourg gave to "M", Le Monde's magazine

Sure, the minister of industrial renewal had a lot more on his mind and wasn't shy about bad mouthing some of his governmental colleagues, but most interesting for Le Figaro (and other media outlets) were Montebourg's ambitions for the highest office in the land.

The presidential election (he didn't explicitly say in which year) was the only one that really interested him.

After his spell as minister he'll "quit politics as a career" because he's "tired of elections."

screenshot from Canal + les guignols de l'info

Moving swiftly along though... and, as promised, the UMP.

While the party's president, Jean-François Copé, was urging the country's president not to become Barak Obama's "poodle" (all right so he didn't quite use that word) over what to do about Syria, and to show some "real leadership", he didn't exactly offer up any alternative strategy himself.

"There is no easy solution to the Syrian crisis," he said in an interview with Le Monde, amazing us all with his political perspicacity.

"The international community has waited so long that the situation is now difficult to control."

Right. Thank you so much M. Copé. As if we hadn't all realised that.

Copé wouldn't initially be drawn on the possibility of French intervention in Syria or whether such action should be put to a parliamentary vote.

But another UMP heavyweight, Alain Juppé, who has held just about every major governmental ministry at one time or another would... be drawn that is.

"What is happening in Syria is a terrible tragedy. Responsibility for this lies with Damascus," he said during the "Friends of Sarkozy" jamboree (more on that in a moment) at the beginning of the week.

"Personally, I believe we must act and I've said so from the very beginning.  But we cannot act alone. We have neither the means nor the legitimacy. We need a coalition, a clear goal, and to find a political solution," said the statesman-in-waiting as he called for the whole issue to be put to a parliamentary vote.

Ah. Isn't it great to have such lucidity and consistency coming from leading members of the opposition?

Perhaps that's why one journalist on television let slip the most telling of phrases in describing the UMP as the "main" opposition party, implying there were other legitimate alternatives.

There are?

Au secours!

Now back to that "Association des amis de Sarkozy" (did you know there has been an official website up and running for quite a while now?) or "Friends of Sarkozy" get together.

The party might no longer be able to afford an annual summer conference, but it certainly seems to have found a viable alternative.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly gathered together in the southwestern French town of Arcachon (nice beaches by the way) on sunny Monday to heap praise on their beloved former leader, outlining once again why he had to return to the political frontline and insisting he was the real boss of the UMP and the man for 2017 (the next French presidential election, just in case you had forgotten).

Up "on stage" (where she belongs) Nadine Morano (yep...her) was daintily haranguing the 2,000-strong crowd, getting them all going with a "You want him back? I didn't hear. Are you sure?" chant.

Firm friend to the former president and loyal lieutenant (yes, it's a cheesy, lazy cliché, but what the heck) Brice Hortefeux was busy signing autographs. And Copé? Well he turned up to press the flesh and show his support just in case the worst (as far as he's concerned) happens and Sarkozy decides to ride his white horse to rescue the party, the country, the world...from Manuel Valls.

Good to know the cult of personality is alive and kicking.

Not present were...surprise, surprise...François Fillon, sharpening his knives elsewhere and attempting to give some colour to his character by doing the (for him) unthinkable and appearing in Paris Match.

All right, so he has done it before. But now he needs to appear "properly presidential" for his 2017 bid.

Also missing was Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who had to get her children ready for la rentrée, Bruno Le Maire and Xavier Bertrand - both of whom have absolutely no pretensions to higher office themselves of course.

"Je soutiens Nicolas Sarkozy"  tee shirt (screenshot from BFM TV report)

And finally. We all know the UMP has been in a bit of a mess financially speaking (although that apparently is all but resolved) so perhaps it could borrow a centime or two from Boris Boillon.

Remember him?

Boillon was the diplomatic golden boy of Sarkozy's presidency.

From Iraq, "Sarko boy", as he was dubbed in the French media, went (via Facebook and that rather, shall we say, "daring" personal photo of him wearing nothing other than a pair of trunks and a smile - you can see the shot here if you feel so inclined) to Tunisia.

Nicely installed there at the ripe old age of just 41 after the country's 2011 Jasmine revolution, he set about making himself popular by insulting a woman journalist, before doing his mea culpa and apologising to the country as a whole on national television.

Anyway, that's all water under the diplomatic bridge because Boillon is no longer France's face abroad - anywhere

But he is back in the news after being stopped recently with a tidy little sum in his pocket.

Boillon was about to make his way to Brussels by train, when police apparently picked him up at Gare du Nord station in Paris with €350,000 and $40,000 worth of readies in his possession.

Er. Don't all transfers of more than €10,000 within the EU need to be declared?

You may ponder on that at your leisure.

Oh, by the way.

Did anyone else see the photo of François Hollande looking suitably gormless that AFP used to run alongside a piece on the start of the school year?

It was apparently withdrawn (an editorial decision) because it was considered "unflattering".

Can't post it here - copyright issues of course.

But you can see it here. Go on. Take a look.

Très Flanby indeed.

And this time it really is bon week-end.

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