Friday, November 17, 2006

royal lines up against sarkosy

It's got to be good news that Segolene Royal has been nominated as the Socialist Party candidate for the Presidency of France, if only because the balance of power in Europe, with Merkel in power in Germany, looks to be slowly shifting away from the macho stereotype and because, most imporantly, she's easily the best placed person to pose a serious threat to Nicolas Sarkosy. She has some decent political instincts, too. On the other hand, like David Cameron, she's pretty reluctant to actually let us know what they are. It seems to be increasingly the case that the default approach for a leadership bid in the twenty first century is a kind of studied blankness, so while Royal makes encouraging noises about, say, renewable energy (she advocates a reduction of nuclear in the French electricity mix), local government, housing and gay marriage, she's very difficult to pin down elsewhere. We know that she's an ardent admirer of the Blair/Clinton approach and will surely be much more pro-American than her rivals (not very hard), we know she has less sympathy for Trade Unions and the public sector and has criticised the notion of a 35 hour week.

We know, most crucially, that she has a strong populist instinct. Her policy on Turkish entry to the EU, for example, is baffling. "My policy is that of the French people." What if they are wrong? A promise to govern according to the will of the people is democratically sound, but it's the same argument that Bush has used to drive voters to the booths by manipulating them over gay rights and abortion. Clearly Ms. Royal is much more liberal than Bush, but comparisons with Blair or the unpleasent populism of John Reid are bound to cause the French a twinge of alarm.

Marcel Berlins, worried that the left would derail her bid, noted that

"Against her is that she has not yet explained her specific, thought-out policies on anything. Her speeches, and answers to media questioning, are rarely more than well- expressed platitudes. She has a book coming out soon which may (or may not) reveal her deeper thoughts on issues of public concern. All this may not matter too much to French voters next year. They may prefer to elect someone who will exhibit style and some administrative competence rather than political weight. And many women will be voting for Royal just because she's a woman."

What is difficult to reconcile is the fact that the same party members who have voted for Royal have also just formalised their manifesto for the next French election and gone for a very traditional French brand of Socialism, quite at odds with her perspective. Will this mean trouble in the future? Or is it just that the French socialists are sensibly backing the horse most likely to win? Shades of Blair and Cameron abound. Regardless, it's good news for Europe's left, generally, as Sarkosy would be a nightmare, and as long Royal does not start marching to a neoconservative beat on the Middle East or encourage further discrimination against her country's Muslim population, I'll be delighted to see her defeat him.

Given that France, Italy and Germany are pressing on in their search for a Palestinian roadmap, and given Royal's more Atlanticist instincts, who's to say that in a few years time global politics won't be dominated by three women - Royal, Merkel and Hilary Clinton?

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