Swans Commentary » swans.com June 18, 2012  



French Political Vaudeville


by Gilles d'Aymery






(Swans - June 18, 2012)  The famous French comic playwright and precursor of the Theatre of the Absurd, Georges Feydeau (1862-1921), were he alive today, could have added three more farces to his repertoire (he wrote some 60 of them, such as, notably, "The Girl from Maxim's," "Champignol in Spite of Himself," and "Please don't walk around in the nude"). How the "King of Vaudeville," as he was known, would have entitled these three farces is obviously unknown -- perhaps "The New Normal," "The Average French Man," and "The Blue Marine." But he would have based these farces on well-known characters (at least in France): François Hollande, Ségolène Royal, Valérie Trierweiler, Olivier Falorni, Nicolas Sarkozy, Marine Le Pen, and others like Nadine Morano or Nathalie Kosciuscko-Morizet.


The New Normal

In late 1978, Ségolène Royal and François Hollande met at the prominent French graduate school known as ENA (Ecole Nationale d'Administration). They fell in love and began a 27-year-long affair in concubinage (they never married) and had four children together. Both went into politics and joined the Socialist Party -- Ségolène Royal as a kind of New Age, slightly messianic politician in and out of government, and François Hollande as a doleful cacique of the party and a representative of Corrèze in parliament. In 2005, Hollande met a twice-divorced journalist, Valérie Trierweiler. It was love at first sight. So, while staying with Royal he began a side affair with Trierweiler. Royal, of course, found out and was not particularly pleased, but she remained publicly quiet about it because she was preparing her run for the 2007 presidential election. A year later, she won the socialist primaries against Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) and Laurent Fabius (Hollande did not participate and barely supported her) and in 2007 she faced Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election, which she lost. She evidently had some rancor or a grudge toward Hollande. In an interview she said that the main weakness of Hollande was his inaction. They separated in June 2007 and Hollande moved in with Trierweiler.

Fast forward to 2011 and the socialist primaries to select the candidate for the 2012 presidential election. DSK was widely considered the favorite until, it goes without saying, the little contretemps at the Sofitel hotel in New York. Royal was also running in these primaries; so was Hollande, and it's the latter who prevailed -- Royal only coming in fourth place. Hollande ran his entire campaign primarily on an anti-Sarkozy platform and the notion of normalcy, but he needed to coalesce the various socialist factions to create a common front against Sarkozy. He needed the support of Royal, and this is where the story becomes amusingly interesting.

In the wake of the first round, he met with Royal and promised her that the Socialist Party would find a safe district where she could run for parliament, and then he told her that once elected and if the left won a majority she would get le perchoir -- that is, she would become the speaker of the House of Representatives. This, from a man who upon being elected claimed that unlike Sarkozy he would be the president of all the French, would be above all political parties, and would stay away from and take no side in the parliamentarian elections...

The Socialist Party chose a district in La Rochelle, Charente-Maritime, a region in the central-southwest of the country where Royal has never lived (she's lived in Paris for decades). In other words she was parachutée there -- a carpetbagger. This decision did not sit well with local politicians, one of them being Olivier Falorni, a long-time friend and supporter of François Hollande and a socialist who had made the decision to run for the same post.

Mr. Falorni was outraged by this shameful parachutage. The Socialist Party, led by Martine Aubry (the daughter of Jacques Delors), told Falorni, on behalf of Royal, to desist. Falorni refused. Aubry then decided to throw Falorni out of the party. Falorni did not relent and became a "dissident" candidate. He came in second, close to Royal, and far ahead of the conservative candidate who represented the UMP (the party of former president Sarkozy). The UMP was quick to support Falorni against Royal, thus possibly giving an edge to Falorni in the second round.

This was embarrassing to the president and the prime minister, Hollande and Ayrault, who sent a direct message of support to Royal who diligently let the voters know. She was the chosen one. This laid bare the pretension of Mr. Normal to be beyond parties and non-engaged in the parliamentarian elections and showed that nepotism was alive and well in France. Mr. Hollande, the anti-Sarkozy candidate and now president, was after all acting very much like Sarkozy. The move infuriated Falorni, who felt betrayed by Hollande and stubbornly decided to remain in the race.

More embarrassing yet to the president and all the caciques in the Socialist Party was a move made by the "First Dame" or the "First Concubine," the current companion of Mr. Hollande, Valérie Trierweiler. Trierweiler used her Twitter account to send a message of support to Falorni. It read: "Good luck to Olivier Falorni who has proved himself worthy, who has fought alongside the people of La Rochelle for so many years with selfless commitment." France exploded in laughter over the catfight. Everybody knew there was little love or friendship between the two women. Trierweiler did not even vote for Royal in 2007. Upon his election victory Hollande gave a kiss on the cheek to Royal. Trierweiler immediately told the new president to give her (Trierweiler) a kiss on the mouth. Since this tweet, Hollande has remained silent, hiding under his desk, the object of television satire. Prime Minister Ayrault was seen rubbing his forehead with his hand, his head bent down, thinking to himself that the Socialist Party did not need this non-marital saga. Falorni, meanwhile, has been salivating over the message of "personal friendship," and keeps running even though the steely Martine Aubry has announced that were Falorni to be elected he would not be allowed to sit within the socialist group in the parliament.

Is this saga a sequel to "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" or an episode of "Dallas at the Elysée"? No one knows, but Mr. Normal has definitely lost his "normalcy."


The Average French Man

Feydeau would definitely have enjoyed this average French man. In his concession speech on May 6, 2012, former president Nicolas Sarkozy said that he was to "become again a French man among all French people," (je vais redevenir un francais parmi les francais, thus suggesting that he was to turn out to be a simple citizen -- one among many. Of course, he did not state that he would be an average citizen. As I mentioned in my Blips #125 (March 21, 2012) Mr. Sarkozy will earn about €21,500 a month without having to work much at all. He'll get free office space, seven staff members, a car, two chauffeurs, security guards, free travel by plane and train, free health care, and various other financial benefits. It was initially reported that he would get only two security guards. It turns out that he will have 10 of them (including the two chauffeurs) as it was deemed that he was a security risk and could be aggressed by hoi poloi. Each security guard costs the state €72,000 per year (you do the math). He will also have a security car following his and a motorcycle gendarme preceding it. Just a French man among all French people! Cost to the taxpayers? Above €2 million a year. And while he has remained discreet since his loss and went to Morocco with his wife and newborn daughter to decompress and take some distance with politics -- how many average French men can afford such a 3-week vacation at the invitation of the Moroccan king? -- one can surmise that soon enough he will hit the speaking circuit and get paid €25 or 50,000 a pop, which will add to his miserly €21,500 monthly stipends. Indeed, just a French man among all French people!


The Blue Marine

This story would make a great farce. In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy went after the National Front (FN) electorate, won it, and won the presidential election. In 2012, he tried to pull off the same stratagem, but this time around it did not work. The National Front, which is always depicted as an extreme-right party in the French media, was taken over by Marine Le Pen, the daughter of her sulfurous father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. She arduously worked to make the populist party more congenial, and she succeeded. She also worked to defeat Sarkozy last May, and here too (among other reasons) she succeeded. Her ambition is to turn the National Front into the main right-wing party in France.

To achieve her goal she needs to have as many traditional conservative parliamentarians (members of the UMP) as possible defeated in these elections. On the other hand, a few UMP candidates in difficulty need the votes of the FN. See the conundrum?

Take Nadine Morano, a former member of the Sarkozy government. She is in a hard position, as the socialist candidate is ahead of her by a large margin in her district located in Meurthe-et-Moselle. So, she has appealed to the National Front electorate to support her, arguing that they all share the same "values." She even wrote a piece published in Minute, an old right-wing weekly, to make her case. She also got caught by a satirist who called her while passing for Louis Aliot, the right hand of Marine Le Pen. Morano told the impersonator that Le Pen had a lot of talents. The satirist played the sound track on the Internet. Mayhem ensued. The heads of the UMP repudiated her, alleging that one should not talk with the leaders of this devilish party (the FN). It was fine to share a few values with the FN electorate -- which is needed if the UMP hopes to win a majority in the coming parliament, but it was not kosher to talk to the FN leaders. The contortions have been so obvious that once again the French people keep laughing.

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen also keeps laughing and strategizing. She has asked her electorate to vote for the socialist candidate in four or five districts. One, in particular, is the district where Nathalie Kosciuscko-Morizet (NKM) -- another strong Sarkozy follower -- is running and being threatened by a socialist. Once, NKM confessed that in a confrontation between an FN and a socialist candidate, she would vote for the socialist. Le Pen responded that if NKM was ready to vote for a socialist against the FN, why wouldn't the FN vote for a socialist against NKM? And so we have a situation in which right-wing voters are called to vote for socialist candidates in order to defeat moderate right-wing candidates.


What a spectacle! France is falling apart economically but the French people have their attention diverted by non-marital jealousy, a president who hides under his desk, whose normalcy is a chimera, and who keeps delivering idiotic speeches and alienating Germany. We have a former president passing for a "normal" French, and a right-wing populist calling to vote for so-called socialists. Too bad Georges Feydeau is no longer among us to make fun of these farces.


Late Notes

- Ségolène Royal has lost the election in La Rochelle. Olivier Falorni won.
- François Bayrou, the center-right head of the MoDem who chose to vote for Hollande against Sarkozy, has lost the election in Pau.
- Nadine Morano has lost the election in her district of Toul in Meurthe-et-Moselle.
- Nathalie Kosciuscko-Morizet won the election in Essonne in spite of Marine Le Pen's call to her electorate to vote for the socialist opponent.
- Marine Le Pen has lost the election in Hénin-Beaumont.
- Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and niece of Marine Le Pen, won in Carpentras, making her the youngest representative ever (22 years old).
- The Socialist Party, with an estimated 300 seats, has won an absolute majority in the chamber.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published June 18, 2012