With the ship sinking and neither captain eager to leave, there was apparently no choice but to plug the leaks, try to steer a course away from the rocks, and hope for the best. So Fillon and Copé have apparently agreed to new elections in September 2013. This long gestational period of 9+ months is presumably intended to allow time for a realignment of forces within the party. Of course, such a realignment risks eliminating both of the current contenders. Perhaps Bruno Lemaire or NKM wil have his or her chance after all. But who knows what other ambitious men and women may even now be revising their calculations?
Does any of this matter to anyone outside the UMP ambit? Only if the party primary determines subsequent party strategy toward the FN, and there are other factors at work in this dimension. Copé is widely seen as having adopted the Patrick Buisson position of shifting the UMP ever closer to the FN. This is correct as far as it goes, but Copé, like Sarkozy, was an opportunistic Buissonien rather than a convinced one, and now that the maneuver has failed, he may well be tempted to try a new tack.
Similarly, Fillon, the "moderate," really isn't so moderate on economic issues, and Copé may well decide to mount an economic populist campaign of the sort that worked so well for Marine Le Pen but may be a rather difficult hat trick to pull off on the part of a corporate lawyer. Fillon will now have to develop some themes other than "moderation" and "anti-Copéism." So the debate could get more interesting. Or it could degenerate into a complex set of local maneuvers, with most of the horse trading taking place where no one can see it.
In any case, September of 2013 brings us to the German federal elections as well, to so one thing is certain: the European context will have changed considerably.