Le Monde Deputy Editor discusses run-up to upcoming French Elections
On March 8, 2007, German Marshall Fund of the United States hosted Patrick Jarreau, deputy editor of Le Monde, to discuss the upcoming French presidential elections as part of GMF's ongoing series with the French American Foundation. That morning, a new poll was published showing that a third candidate, Francois Bayrou, had surged in the polls with nearly equal support to Socialist candidate, Segolene Royal, and there was a great deal of interest in the room about the changing dynamics of the election.
Mr. Jarreau began with a survey of the elections and candidates, observing the potential for a generational change in French politics this year. He reviewed the main candidates, observing that Royal would not be the first woman to hold high office in France (since Edith Cresson had served as prime minister) but she would be the first to be directly elected. She was chosen as the Socialist candidate in what he referred to as the first American-style primary, even if the voters were not the general public but party members who paid a nominal fee to vote. Current polls suggest that, if Bayrou and Sarkozy were to receive the largest share of the votes in a first round, Bayou would win in a two way race between Bayrou and Sarkozy. At the same time, he noted that voters for Sarkozy and Royal are far less likely to change their minds than voters for Bayrou.
When asked about the potential impact of Le Pen voters and newly registered voters (which might come disproportionately from immigrant backgrounds), Mr. Jarreau suggested that, if Le Pen failed to reach the necessary signatures to run in the first round, his voters might punish Sarkozy by deserting him. While there appears to be a large number of newly registered voters (the precise numbers are not known because they are not counted in France), it is unclear whether they are youth, who would have little reason to vote for Sarkozy, or those who reject the violence of the riots in 2005. He contrasted the three candidates' positions on the EU, whereby Sarkozy seeks to separate the constitutions provisions from institutional reform from its social charter. Royal argues one must agree on the social charter first and take the entire package to the voters, and Bayrou's policies are not yet clear on this issue. Mr. Jarreau discussed their economic platforms, agreeing with one questioner that Sarkozy may be seen as more of a reformer than he really is and Royal may prove to be more of a reformer than she currently appears. Their main difference, he suggested was on tax policy. On Turkey, he felt there is a broad consensus in France against Turkey's joining the EU.
The audience included representatives from the US Dept of State, US Dept of Treasury, the diplomatic community including Ambassador Lund of Sweden, the think tank and academic communities, and the media.