French politics

Sarkozy returns to frontline politics
With President François Hollande languishing at record lows in the polls, former president Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that he plans to return to frontline politics, which almost certainly means a view to running for the presidency in 2017. Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief, and Tony Barber to discuss his prospects.

Tony Barber

It’s the fashion these days for outsiders to lecture France as if it’s a talented but obstinate schoolboy failing his grades. The idea seems to be that the more you tell the French off, the faster they’ll pull their socks up. This approach is wrong. We should, instead, smother France with love.

Like anyone, the French like to hear from time to time that they are clever, beautiful, funny, kind and successful. But for the past 10 years or so, the outside world has spoken fewer nice words about France than about any developed country.

It’s reached ridiculous proportions. Anyone would think, from all these foreign sermons, that French civilisation was falling apart. This is hardly the way to get the best out of any nation, not just the French. We need to stop finding fault and start smothering France with love. Read more

Just when it seemed that European politics could get no harder for Angela Merkel, a new complication has emerged in the tangled world of the EU.

The German chancellor is already involved in a head-splitting row over the probable appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president. This week while Ms Merkel was in Brazil watching Germany’s opening victory of the World Cup, the first big split emerged in her ruling coalition.

Sigmar Gabriel, her deputy, pounced on Ms Merkel’s absence to challenge her eurozone economic policy, in an intervention that has the potential to sour relations long after the original dispute is forgotten. Read more

Tony Barber

Now that most of the results have come in from the European parliament elections, let’s take a family photograph of Europe’s presidents, chancellors and prime ministers. Who have the broadest smiles on their faces, and who are sobbing into their handkerchiefs?

Among the European Union’s six biggest states – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK – the happiest leader must surely be Matteo Renzi, Italy’s premier. He won, and won big. Mr Renzi (above) demolished the notion that Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement is on an unstoppable roll. He also inflicted an emphatic defeat on Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party.

Even though it was not a national election, the youthful Mr Renzi can now claim to have a mandate of sorts for the political, economic and social reforms that he knows are necessary to modernise Italy. This is not to say that he will succeed – the power of entrenched anti-reform interests in Italy is formidable. But maybe he has a better chance than he did 48 hours ago. Read more

Tony Barber

No doubt about it, Sunday’s European parliament elections have produced a political tremblement de terre – an earthquake – in France, with Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) claiming victory in the poll. But across the 28-nation EU as a whole, the mainstream pro-European parties will breathe a sigh of relief tonight at having held their ground relatively successfully against anti-establishment insurgents from the far right, far left and anti-EU camps.

The protest vote is not nearly big enough to be labelled a comprehensive rejection of the EU, its political values and its economic crisis management over the five years since the last European elections. Eurosceptics, broadly defined, are projected to win about 130 of the EU legislature’s 751 seats. Given that the EU has just gone through the biggest financial shock and recession of its 56-year history, the damage could have been greater.

Conversely, the vote cannot be considered a ringing endorsement of the cause of closer European integration. The mainstream centre-right European People’s party looks set to be the winner, but with its representation in the EU legislature sharply down to about 211 seats from 273. Moreover, estimates of a pan-European voter turnout of just over 43 per cent – well below the levels recorded in national elections in every member-state – indicate that more than half of the 388m eligible voters simply do not think the European parliament matters much. Read more

Four days away from potentially her biggest election victory, Marine Le Pen (above) has had a sharp reminder of the biggest threat to her assiduous efforts to detoxify the far-right National Front (FN) in the eyes of French voters: her father.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN founder who handed over the party reins to his youngest daughter in 2010, remains its honorary chairman and is a candidate in Sunday’s election for the European parliament.

Before joining his daughter on the podium for the closing rally of the FN’s election campaign in Marseille on Tuesday evening, the party’s 85-year-old patriarch was heard discussing the issue of population growth and immigration with an FN mayor by two journalists from AFP, the French news agency.

The agency reported him as saying that France “risked submersion” from immigration and a low birthrate, complaining that the issue was being ignored.

In response to the suggestion that it was never to late to act, the agency said Mr Le Pen replied: “It is never too late, but still is it very late,” before adding: “Monseigneur Ebola could take care of it in three months.” Read more

A new direction for France?
President François Hollande’s socialist party took a serious drubbing in Sunday’s local elections. He responded by swiftly sacking his prime minister and replacing him with Manuel Valls, a tough interior minister and economic reformer from the party’s right wing. So does this appointment signal a modernising direction for France? Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief, and Ben Hall, world news editor and former Paris correspondent, to discuss.

French President François Hollande has made an uncharacteristically audacious decision in appointing Manuel Valls, an economic reformer and Socialist party moderniser, as his new prime minister. Here are five things you need to know about the new premier: Read more

Can Hollande get the French economy back on track?
By an unfortunate coincidence, President François Hollande’s efforts to relaunch his presidency with an announcement of bold economic reforms have coincided with the revelation that he appears to be having an affair with an actress. Meanwhile, the economy continues to struggle, and the government is engaged in an effort to block performances by the controversial comic Dieudonné. Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris Bureau chief, and Ben Hall, world news editor, to discuss whether France is in crisis, or whether it’s business as usual

When President Francois Hollande steps up to the podium in the splendid Elysee Palace at 16.30 Paris time, 15.30 GMT on Tuesday for the third formal press conference of his 20-month old presidency, the first question on everyone’s lips is likely to be about the revelations of his apparent affair with a film actress.

How he deals with this embarrassing issue –Valerie Trierweiler, his partner and France’s first lady, remains in hospital recovering from the shock – will inevitably overshadow an event originally intended to concentrate on the economy.

But the financial markets, business leaders and France’s European partners will nonetheless be watching most closely what Mr Hollande has to say about his New Year resolution to inject some much-needed vitality into the French recovery, which is lagging behind those of the country’s biggest neighbours. Read more