Sunday, March 16, 2008

Seeing What You Want to See

Here's how the Wall Street Journal plays the municipal results:

PARIS -- The ruling center-right UMP party of Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated in local elections Sunday, putting even more pressure on the French president to forge ahead with his promised overhaul of the country's sluggish economy.

Well, that's one interpretation, I guess.

A Dispiriting Victory for the Left

The Left took Toulouse but lost Marseille. It knocked out Xavier Darcos in Périgueux and put down François Bayrou in Pau. But it failed to mobilize voters--the abstention rate was the highest in decades.

This dispiriting victory may nevertheless be a blessing in disguise. A more robust sanction vote against the Right would have induced a false sense of security. This lackluster win should remind all Socialists that the need for a thorough renovation of the party remains its first challenge.

Bayrou's Loss

François Bayrou has lost his bid to remain mayor of Pau. It is hard to see where he goes from here. His strength of a year ago came from his being neither Nicolas Sarkozy nor Ségolène Royal, a ni-ni that seemed to please nearly a fifth of the electorate. But how much real positive sentiment was there for Bayrou? Quite a lot, he flattered himself, but since then his presidential ambitions and rejectionist stance have alienated many in his own party and, now, apparently, many voters in his home town. He has not been an effective critic of Sarkozy and has not put forward a distinctive centrist position on major national issues. Like Sarkozy, he tried to build his ambition around a cult of personality, but cults of personality are not really the stuff of centrist movements. The center needs to renovate itself almost as badly as the Socialist Party does. Ségolène Royal may still be entertaining some version of the morganatic marriage she proposed to Bayrou between the two rounds of the presidential election: Wed the two parties from the top down, she seemed to suggest, take the main prize, and then divide power according to the respective contributions of each partner. With Bayrou deflated, she will have to refashion her appeal to the center and offer something compelling to the rank-and-file of MoDem rather than a mere prize to the party's now vulnerable leader.

Areva Privatization

According to MediaPart, one of the major reforms that is to distinguish Phase II of the Sarkozy regime will be the privatization of Areva, which I have discussed here on numerous occasions. This will be controversial for any number of reasons, but especially controversial if "friend-of-Sarko" (FOS) Martin Bouygues, the godfather of Sarko's son, acquires the firm. Nuclear technology and energy policy are of course both sensitive national-security-related subjects, so Sarkozy's maneuvering on this dossier will be subject to the closest scrutiny both inside and outside France.