The Socialists have to choose between two candidates, but the UMP seems to have got its knickers in a twist over the recourse to primaries. Sarkozy invoked the spirit of de Gaulle to denounce the primary system as a perversion of the Fifth Republic, which was supposed to detach the president from the parties--a somewhat strange argument coming from a figure whose route to the presidency lay through capture of the party and who continued to control the party, and participate in its activities, for some time after his election. Fillon, on the other hand, thinks primaries are just dandy--and no doubt he expects to win one against Copé in 2017.
Do primaries in France make sense? Arun Kapil offers some interesting thoughts on the subject here. In the US, the turn to primaries was a reform that grew out of the anti-establishment revolt of the late '60s, and its consequences have been mixed. Candidates must raise a lot of money and campaign in many states, and the role of the media, as well as accidents such as the sequence of elections in various states, has distorted the process. The "smoke-filled room" was not necessarily worse than what we have now. But people seem to like being consulted, so whaddayagonnado? as Tony Soprano would say. A political party is not the Mafia, which chooses its leaders by cooptation (even if it sometimes behaves like the Mafia--and I'm not naming names).