French Presidential Surprise

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich Parallel to the German Federal elections that are going to take place October 22nd 2017, there will be presidential elections in France end of April and May 2017. The strategic outcome of both elections will be of major significance for the political landscape in Europe. Five years of presidency under socialist President François Hollande have led France – which was tragically hit during the last two years by several waves of terrorism – into a stagnant political situation, leaving behind a huge state deficit (2200 Billion Euro, growing by 80 Billion Euro per annum), a 24% youth unemployment rate, as well as paralyzed structures in the public service that urgently need to be reformed. In Germany, last week , Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that she will run for the fourth time as Chancellor Candidate for the CDU. Shortly before her announcement, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier has been chosen by the Grand Coalition as designated successor candidate for the outgoing German President Gauck. February 22nd the federal Parliament will vote who is going to be Gauck’s successor. The Social Democrat Frank Walter Steinmeier ranks among the politicians in Germany with one of the highest approval rates. This has very much to do with his foreign policy and the principles which inspire his foreign policy that is basically oriented along the model of the “Peace of Westphalia”. Rather than looking for confrontation (for example with Russia) and further inflame wars in the Mideast, he is persistently looking for a policy of détente and reconciliation. French surprise factor Francois Fillon In a run off for the primaries, which took place November 27th and which saw an even stronger voter participation, Republican François Fillon won with an overwhelming majority against the other candidate from the Republican Party (UMP), Bordeaux mayor, Alain Juppé. Fillon obtained 67% while Juppé only got 33%. This means that contrary to all official expectations spread by the French media, François Fillon, who was former Prime Minister under President Sarkozy will run as presidential candidate for the UMP. It is not to be excluded that at the end of the campaign there will be a run off between him and the candidate of the Front National, Marine Le Pen, and it is not to be excluded that Fillon will become elected as French President in 2017. The contours of his program were outlined during a nationally televised debate (TF1) on November 24 between the two political contenders of the French Republican party (UMP): 62 year old François Fillon (from Sablés-de-Sarthe of the Loire region), who is rooted in the left Gaullist tradition, and Alain Juppé (mayor of Bordeaux) who represents more the liberal/cosmopolitan representative. The debate between the two contenders took place after the first primary election last Sunday had ended with a spectacular result, namely when the outsider candidate François Fillon surprisingly won with 44% against the other Republican contenders Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé. The debate, unlike the often vulgar and irrational candidate debates in the U.S., was conducted in a civilized way between the two contenders; they know each other since 30 years and have served respectively under various governments, either as Prime Ministers or Ministers. Watching the whole debate, the author was struck by the straightforwardness expressed by François Fillon. He strongly emphasized that France will “renew” its relations with Moscow. This is significant since he was special guest at the Valdai discussion Forum –a prestigious forum which since 2004 assembles every year leading strategists and politicians from East and West in Russia. In the year 2013 he participated in the final discussion panel with President Putin, Romano Prodi and Volker Rühe. The main focus of the debate between Fillon and Juppé was centered however on domestic issues, above all the need, as both candidates stated, for long overdue economic reforms. Fillon – while addressing the lamentable unemployment situation which amounts to 24 % youth unemployment, the growing poverty and a dramatic state debt, pleaded for a drastic labor reform; this includes a de-bureaucratization of sclerotic state structures (cutting 500.000 jobs in the public sector), eliminating the 35 hour week by increasing the work hours; a comprehensible tax and pension reform (increasing the retirement age from 62 to 65); less taxes imposed on enterprises; a reform of the educations system as well as much more attention to be given to the family policy. Concerning their view on foreign policy, the two candidates Juppe and Fillon had quite different views. While both candidates expressed the need to maintain good relations with the U.S., opposite to Alain Juppé, Fillon made clear that he was definitely interested in “renewing relations with Russia” and opposing sanctions. During the debate he suggested that “we should sit around a table with Russia without having to demand permission for this from the US and restart a dialogue which allows us to integrate Russia into Europe.” He qualified the policy conducted under President Hollande in respect to Russia (in particular France’s policy in Syria) as “absurd” and complained that the policy of sanctions has only “hardened” Russia’s stance and driven the country further toward Asia. In summer 2015 at the St Petersburg economic Forum, as Le Monde reported November 21, Fillon emphasized in his message that there must be an end to the crisis unleashed by the war in Ukraine and that sanctions must be lifted. “Our destiny is inextricably interlinked “, he said, “which is what General de Gaulle said during his visit in Russia 1966.We were in the middle of the Cold War and already then General de Gaulle predicted the historical unity of the continent.” Fillon and his stance on Christian values The Paris correspondent of the German Daily FAZ, Michaela Wiegel, portrayed in a background article as a candidate Fillon as a man who is corresponding to a left Gaullist tradition, who has his origins in the grass- root movement of the “France of the villages and small towns”. Fillon has five children with his wife Penelope from Wales. His father was notary and the mother a history professor from Le Mans. Both were active in the catholic charity organization “Emmaus”. The French politician was described in the article as someone who wants a strong economic revival and who is a strong defender of Christian values. He is in favour of a constructive family policy and personally opposed against homosexual marriage and gender education. Unlike many Right wing extremists in the Le Pen Party, he is for constructive dialogue with the Muslims. In terms of Fillon’s Christian roots, Wiegel made reference to a speech which Fillon had given August 15th at the 11th century Benedictine Abbey at Solesmes situated at the Sarthe River, near his home town Sarthe. In this speech he strongly underlined that France was not born in 1789. Since the baptizing of Clovis I. of Reims 1500 years have passed, he said and “France is the eldest daughter of the catholic church and the country of the Philosophy of enlightenment.” In his book “Faire” which has by now become a “Bestseller” Fillon had written: “I am a Catholic and I have preserved my faith. It all began at school with the Jesuits.” For Fillon words such as “forgiveness”, “mercy” and “transcendence” represent values in a world in which violence, animosity and lack of empathy is influencing human relations”, Wiegel commented, adding that Fillon had been unjustly characterized by Alain Juppé as “reactionary, traditionalist Catholic.” This goes in line with the habit among many French intellectuals who think that it is “fashionable” to take an “anti – clerical position”.

Wiesbaden, 27. November 2016

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