France: Going down for the second time

Hardly had the French media begun to chew over the results of last Sunday’s European election, than something happened which threatened to do the impossible – undermine the standing of the French political class even further.

In brief, the lawyer for a PR company owned by friends of Jean-François Copé, the current leader of the largest right-wing party, the UMP, announced publicly that the company had been used to launder money for Sarkozy’s 2012 election campaign. It sent false bills to the UMP for meetings and functions that never happened, to pay for Sarkozy’s election expenses. It looks like about €10M was diverted in this way, or about half the total campaign spending. There’s no doubt about what happened (or its illegality), just who knew and approved it. After a tense meeting of the UMP executive, Copé was told to go and find the door. He will resign in a couple of weeks, and be replaced by a trio of former Prime Ministers, until a replacement can be found.

This is just the latest in an apparently never-ending series of scandals (two more this week), and almost all of Sarkozy’s circle are being investigated for alleged criminal offenses of one kind or another, mostly fraud related. Sarkozy himself (who still wants to run in 2017) may yet go to prison. So you can imagine that the government (with problems of its own) would be leaping around in triumph, and putting the knife and the boot in, waiting to coast to an easy victory in 2017. Unfortunately not. François Hollande is now the most unpopular President in modern French history, and the Socialists scored a humiliating 14% in the European elections, even less than the UMP. And Hollande’s response to this kicking, delivered on TV on Monday, is that the Socialists will continue with their disastrous policies of Brussels-mandated neoliberalism, and job and spending cuts, with a few bits of red meat like gay marriage thrown to their militants to appease them. Meanwhile their electorate continues to evaporate, and much of it is going to the Front national.  It takes real genius to drive former Communist Party voters into the arms of the FN. There is no word to describe the level of incompetence that it takes to drive parts of the Muslim population into voting for the FN as well, because of gay marriage and other family initiatives. And the extreme left, which should logically be profiting from all of this, polled a measly 6%, obsessed as it is with internal struggles (there were eight separate left-wing lists in the Ile de France) and introducing gender education in schools.

The French political system is falling apart. It’s one thing to have a divided opposition, and another to have an incompetent leadership, but to have them both at the same time is a disaster. This is reflected in the fact that the combined vote of the two “serious” mainstream political parties in the European elections was only 35%, and this seems, from the polls, to reflect the mood of the country as a whole. Even adding smaller parties like Bayrou’s UDI to the mix, you don’t arrive at even half the French people voting for the parties of the establishment, and even then many of those voters are reluctant. This situation has been coming for a while, but now it’s undeniably arrived: the question is, can the French political system as we know it be saved?

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