A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO FRENCH POLITICS

Over 200 years ago Napoleon Bonaparte said “In politics stupidity is not a handicap”.

via Wikimedia Commons


To an outsider French politics can be incredibly confusing … just as it is to French people.

The political right in France is not in any way recognisable as belonging to the right side of politics that one would find in any other democratic country, being more accurately only just marginally to the right of the left. The current flag carriers for the marginally right of the left is the UMP (Union pour un Movement Populaire), which is currently very “unpopulaire”, hovering at about 30% approval, and which now could more accurately be an acronym for Unreelectable Maddening President.

Nicolas Sarkozy moved from leader of the UMP to France’s 23rd President in May 2007 on a platform based on the need to revitalise the French economy and need for change, and immediately brought to bear the entire power of the office of the French Presidency to changing his marital status, getting divorced from Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz in October 2007 and marrying Carla Bruni in February 2008. On taking office he also immediately changed his own annual salary from € 101,000 to € 242,000.

Source: Whitehouse Blog; via Wikimedia Commons


These 2 major changes so tired him that he has rested ever since, though he did find a small burst of energy which enabled him to impregnate his new and attractive wife, who has now given birth to a Sarkozy heiress.

The far left French socialist party (Parti Socialist) has had some leadership setbacks since its first successful run at the Presidency in 1981. Its leader is Segolene Royale … no, it’s Francois Hollande … no, it’s Martine Aubrey … no, it’s Harlem Desir … no it’s Francois Hollande again. The only obvious person who is definitely not the leader of the PS is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the ex-head of the IMF. He committed the ultimate sin in French politics, which is not the having of affairs, nor the having of mistresses, nor even of being a sexual predator, but is the unforgiveable sin of having it all make headlines in the newspapers thus embarrassing the French populace by being caught by foreigners doing all these things. The reality is that many French people actually admire and envy him his sexual energy, but will not tolerate his lack of discretion.

The far right is represented by the Front National (National Front) founded by Jean Marie le Pen (see “Vive l’European Parliament” posted September 20, 2010), and now led by his daughter Marine le Pen. The FN is a classic right wing party allied to the British BNP, and who wish to stop all immigration, impose stronger law and order initiatives by bringing back the guillotine, drop out of the EU and go back to the franc, build a fence along France’s borders with all other countries, ban all foreign films, make the use of any languages other than French a punishable offence, expel all foreign residents back to their home countries giving their renovated houses back to French nationals, and change McDonalds from serving hamburgers into duck-in-a-crepe takeaways thereby rejuvenating the French agricultural sector. Their popularity is growing daily as France continues, together with Germany, to support Greek lifestyles thus forcing the French to move their retirement age to a staggering 62, leaving an average of only 20 years of being supported by the State in their old age, but whilst retaining the 35 hour work week.

Author: Charles14082011; via Wikimedia Commons


The far far left is mainly represented by the Parti Communiste (PCF) which is still strongly Stalinist as no one has actually told them that Russia has moved away from traditional communism since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. PCF support has fallen from a high of 20% to about 5% currently as most people in France watch television and know that both Russia and China have been moving away from actual communism towards a more open market form of -ism, whereas true French communists eschew foreign capitalist consumerism and thus are not able to watch television but just keep re-reading old Karl Marx pamphlets for their news updates.

Author: Jaume Ollé; via Wikimedia Commons


There are also a few aging and declining far far far left parties such as Lutte Ouvriere (Workers’ Struggle) and LCR (Revolutionary Communist League), who are giving way to Parti de Gauche (Party of the Left) who actually have 2 seats in the Parliament and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-capitalist Party) who, together with Cuba, are the last who still believe in the pure ideals of collective farms and state ownership of all assets, including berets.

There are some small centrist parties such as the Nouveau Centre which is allied with the right of left UMP, so no-one is quite sure about what it sits in the centre of, as it is hard to position any party apart from those on the farthest extremes. The others seem to be able to float around at will, much akin to the streetwalkers in Bangkok these days. Francois Bayrou (a former presidential candidate) has also formed the Mouvement Democratique, to sit somewhere between the Left and Right and thus spends all of his time trying to work out where they actually are, and what they actually believe would be best for themselves, and maybe even occasionally for the rest of France, so he can actually define where he should sit politically.

Plato summed it all up over 2000 years ago when he said

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are not.”

via Wikimedia Commons


Advertisements

9 Responses to A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO FRENCH POLITICS

  1. Rachael says:

    An interesting article. I especially like the 2 quotes. You do not appear to support any of the political parties that you have mentioned and sound somewhat disillusioned. This is a common theme in England too. I am a little surprised that you feel Sarkozy is lazy though. To me he appears to be quite the opposite. He has consistently taken a proactive role in European affairs. I have admired him at times for his apparent wish to maintain good relationships with the other leaders to enable peace and trade to flourish. In Britain we have had Blair who we put on a pedestal from which he eventually knocked himself off with his own egotism. We then had poor old Brown who was never given a chance by press or public despite his attempts to make life better for the 50% of workers who earn below £500 a week. And now we have Cameron who does what he wants to do regardless of advice from his peers and irrespective of public opinion. The country has only itself to blame though as he was elected fair and square. I think most politicians do go into politics with the right intentions but their ideas are often flawed or cannot be realised. I do not envy them their task or their accountability.

  2. leshayman says:

    Hi Rachael,
    You are right that I am disillusioned … I am actually a disillusioned Sarkozy/UMP supporter. It is not that I think that Sarkozy is lazy, as he is very involved in EU issues, but many had hoped that he would be a driver of change in France, which he has not been.
    Despite the strong rhetoric, he and the unions have circled each other without him having the courage to fight them to resolve the issues with French Labour laws, the 35 hour work week and resultant costs to business and the economy, retirement age change, changes to wealth tax that drives wealth from the country, France’s growing debt, France’s growing public sector, state retirement benefits etc etc etc…. all things that he said he would tackle.
    I have met many politicians/leaders from many countries in my life and I can count the ones that I admire on one finger … Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. He had real integrity in that what he believed was the same as what he said was the same as what he did. Almost no other politician that comes to mind can claim this.
    Les

  3. Steve says:

    Excellent summary, I particularly like the comment from Plato.

  4. How can we realistically hope for changes…especially from the French? First of all, opinions are often made from a clear lack of understanding or miscommunications.
    Sarkozy was elected because of the needs for reforms. Once in power, he then had to face the French system, made of all sort of legislations which very often add more confusions than anything else.
    Generally speaking people who elect their deputies, senators, congressmen, etc… wish for changes as long as these changes do not interfere with their own personal motivation and comfort zone. This is true in France as it is in the other part of the world I’m sure. So what would happen if Sarkozy (or any other new person in charge) was to reinstate the legal requirement of 42 hours work a week? Associations of all sorts supported by lobbies, unions, students, etc.. would be expressing their dissatisfaction down the streets with all the standby, vandalism and chaos that would come with it. Needless to mention how quick the opposition will also be keen to use this situation to their favor.
    Unfortunately everyone complains but noone is responsible enough to agree for real changes.
    Could really someone explains to me why there are so many unemployed people? Do the streets look clean, grass and bushes in park cut and trimed? What about public transport? What about dimanstling any queing system? Why Post Offices generally have one if not several counters closed at the same time? Why, why, why? Shouldn’t there be some improvements made? And we could go on like that because the lists of things to do, to renovate, to cater for and to improve are absolutely endless.

    • leshayman says:

      Francois,
      The problem is that it is hard to get people to give up what they already have, particularly in socialist states where the belief is that the state “owes” things to people in exchange for just being there and for loyalty. On top of this, once politicians are in power their only focus is on being re-elected rather than doing what is ultimately necessary for the good of the people.
      People understood that there would be some pain involved in the changes that Sarkozy said were needed, and were prepared to live with this pain if it was equally spread and if it was well explained to the people as to why it was necessary. Instead he allowed the country to keep borrowing and get more in debt, and continued to financially support countries that had no desire to curb their own excesses. Sarkozy could have rallied the people behind him with a “Let’s make France great again” type campaign rather than just “business as usual”.
      The focus now needs to be to pull the country together to bring down the debt by learning to live within our means and to get people working, particularly the young. Work is not a hardship … it is a privilege, and people should be thrilled to have the ability to work, and work hard for the good of themsleves, their families, their community and their country.
      People will follow leaders even into hardship … they will NOT follow politicians who only look after themselves and who cannot lead.
      Les

  5. Rachael says:

    HI Francois. It is true that people, generally, bemoan the need for change but when it upsets the way they are used to living, they don’t like it. However, it is possible to gradually bring people around to new ideas. For example, in Britain, recycling of rubbish and clamping down on smoking have met with huge success. Fifteen years ago, if you bothered to recycle glass, friends and colleagues might raise their eyebrows and refer to you as a ‘hippy’. But now people compete to see who can be the most ‘green’. Some families brag about having barely any rubbish to collect as almost everything is recycled. It’s great. And now, because people have to go out in the cold to smoke, many (despite for many years believing they were hopelessly addicted) have managed to give up the habit saving both themselves and our National Health Service a small fortune.

    In this country the unemployment is high because we have foolishly allowed ourselves to become a nation of service-providers rather than trades people and farmers. It worked for a while but now we have to adjust. And we will adjust.

    As for why there is rubbish everywhere – well, I think there are numerous solutions to that. One is to tax packaging. Two is to hold community litter picking expeditions and publicly acknowledge those who take part. Three – to educate children about the consequences of littered streets. And four is just for everyone to do their bit by not dropping litter and perhaps trying, every day, to pick up and dispose of at least one piece that they see.

    We can all be leaders – by being good role-models.

  6. pierresgn says:

    As French, I should prefer Jean de La Fontaine.
    La Fontaine: The Frogs Asking a King
    A certain commonwealth aquatic,
    Grown tired of order democratic,
    By clamouring in the ears of Jove, effected
    Its being to a monarch’s power subjected.
    Jove flung it down, at first, a king pacific.
    Who nathless fell with such a splash terrific,
    The marshy folks, a foolish race and timid,
    Made breathless haste to get from him hid.
    They dived into the mud beneath the water,
    Or found among the reeds and rushes quarter.
    And long it was they dared not see
    The dreadful face of majesty,
    Supposing that some monstrous frog
    Had been sent down to rule the bog.
    The king was really a log,
    Whose gravity inspired with awe
    The first that, from his hiding-place
    Forth venturing, astonish’d, saw
    The royal blockhead’s face.
    With trembling and with fear,
    At last he drew quite near.
    Another follow’d, and another yet,
    Till quite a crowd at last were met;
    Who, growing fast and strangely bolder,
    Perch’d soon upon the royal shoulder.
    His gracious majesty kept still,
    And let his people work their will.
    Clack, clack! what din beset the ears of Jove?
    ‘We want a king,’ the people said, ‘to move!’
    The god straight sent them down a crane,
    Who caught and slew them without measure,
    And gulp’d their carcasses at pleasure;
    Whereat the frogs more wofully complain.
    ‘What! what!’ great Jupiter replied;
    ‘By your desires must I be tied?
    Think you such government is bad?
    You should have kept what first you had;
    Which having blindly fail’d to do,
    It had been prudent still for you
    To let that former king suffice,
    More meek and mild, if not so wise.
    With this now make yourselves content,
    Lest for your sins a worse be sent.’

  7. leshayman says:

    Pierre, thank you for adding some culture to the discussion … I have long loved the fables of La Fontaine and this is most appropriate.
    We do tend to believe that the answer is always to change the leaders in the hope that things will improve, which they rarely do.
    I at least hope that France will not go the way of Italy and Greece, where they have given away the right to select their “emperor” democratically and have handed over their future to “the bankers” who must shoulder some of the blame for helping to create the problem in the first place.
    Les

  8. Les and Racheal, thank you for adding some interesting points, all valid of course and I took the example of the environment as it always is a recurring subject. Whether we do enough on an individual basis, certainly not. Me included!
    You are correct to say that “politicians are once in power their only focus is on being re-elected”. This has always been the trend: generally the first two years after the elections seem to be a time for changes.
    My opinion is that this should be the time when the media should take initiatives asking the right questions to these people, rather than making big melodramas and inviting the opposition to express their discontentment. Of course the opposition would not agree with the latest decisions made by their opponents: they lost the election and for some of them this may have been their last chance to aim for the top job. So the chance is that they will remain bitter about this and will hardly make any objective comments, isn’t it.
    After these couple of years, there is a long period of wait and see, when very often people previously in power are under the scrunity of the law for one reason or another. Here again, the media are to blame to focus on this rather than to remind our ‘governors’ what they have promised and when these changes will be implemented. After all, these guys were elected for a number of years so let’s give them a chance to prove they can do the job as well as questioning them on what was promised has not been done, so why and when it will be achieved. This is like a business model where the share holders of a company asked for some results.
    Most, if not all European countries could potentially file for bankrupcy now for being so badly managed, but that has not happened because our society has taugh us not to question what is not politically correct. So where does that leave us?
    Needless to say that the opinion has been witnessing some ‘circus’ scenes in the past. Has anyone of us seen a politician not responding to the question he was asked by a journalist? Surely we all did.
    Instead shouldn’t all parties be working towards making their country being financially, socially and politically better rather than fighting their own ideology without acknowledging the good intentions of what other parties may have to offer.
    So yes I agree we can all be leaders – by being good role-models but the incentive is certainly not there and although we are told that each vote makes the difference, I am tempted to say that it doesn’t seem to have made a huge difference for a number of years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: