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Radnor Geopolitical Report

Paris, May 2007



Strategic geopolitical intelligence for decision-makers





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France's 44 percent future

by Ken Feltman and Louis-Lyonel Voiron

Clearly no one knows what leadership has gone undiscovered in women of all races.

- Gloria Steinem

The analysts were quick to tell us what happened in the French election but not so quick to try to tell us what it means. Everyone agreed on basic statistics: Men supported the center-right candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, by about a 54-46 margin. Women supported him by 52-48. Retirees and those close to retirement - large cohorts in France - went heavily for Sarkozy. In fact, every age group supported him except young adults with jobs. That age group went for Socialist Ségolène Royal, as did the demographic groups composed of the unemployed, public employees and students.

Some analysts now suggest that despite all the campaigning, all the interest, all the charges and all the bitterness, the election was very conventional and produced a predictable result: A slightly right-of-center electorate produced a slightly right-of-center winner. That much is true. But after that the conventional wisdom is wrong when it suggests that France was not ready for a woman. The voters had more on their minds and those other factors made this a very unconventional election.

Are the Socialists finally on their way out?

This was the last French election fought on the turf of the Socialist left. In a right-of-center country, the political agenda has been controlled for years by the Socialists and their allies on the left, including Communists and Trotskyites. This coalition helped create a welfare state that became the envy of many of its neighbors. The French enjoyed a fine lifestyle supported by a safety net of some of the most generous social benefits in the West. Eventually, those rich benefits absorbed a larger and larger share of the working taxpayers? income. The benefits attracted immigrants. They encouraged the less ambitious to slack off. Finally, they became impossible to afford. The French voters knew they had to change.

Change is hard. The French tried to find a way to vote for change - but not too much change, not too fast, not too disruptive, not too inconvenient. They hope that they succeeded by electing a candidate who has established that he will stand against street violence while upholding entitlements such as the national health system, which is one of the world?s best and costs less than most others. The voters rejected giving the mere appearance of voting for change by voting for a woman. They voted for real change, but not very radical change.

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The left promised more of the same, including what an increasing number of French voters consider coddling of those who burn cars and break windows to express their frustrations. Sarkozy stood for taking a harder line with vandals while not ripping away the safety net. This seemed to voters to be a good bargain. The voters can have center-right police protections and center-left welfare benefits.

What happened to the women's vote?

The analysts spent quite a bit of time combing through the results and deciding why women did not vote for Royal, the first woman to reach the run-off for president. A lifelong woman Socialist from the South of France may have summed it up clearly: ?I wanted to vote for her. I have always voted Socialist but I voted for Sarkozy because I did not want her embarrassing me for five years. She was not ready and I'm not stupid.? In short, Royal did not inspire confidence that she was up to the job. Her cosmopolitan lifestyle, so mysterious and interesting to the sophisticated of Paris and other fashionable capitals, was threatening and off-putting to the majority of French women.

Women are the backbone of most countries. They set the tone. Perhaps this is even more true in France. Most French women are strong Catholics and believe in the fundamental institution of marriage. It gives them a degree of security and equality. It defines the very values of family and even of being French. Royal lived the progressive life of a woman who did not need marriage to make her way and to have control over her life. Indeed, her ?companion? was usually described throughout the campaign as the father of her children (probably in recognition of the fact that he and Royal are not really companions and live largely separate lives). French women are practical. They tend to have husbands, not someone to father their children. They know that marriage is a stabilizing element that keeps the fabric of civil society sewn together. The safety net of social benefits is important to them. The safety of the streets is, too.

Sarkozy understood that and enough women understood that he did. Royal understood it, too. But not enough women understood that she did.

Consider two facts: France?s electorate is different in one respect. In most democracies, men are more conservative. But in France, the women are more conservative and the men are more aligned with the left-leaning unions and parties. The men want to keep their 35-hour work week. Wives and mothers know that they do not have a 35-hour work week.

Secondly, with the election over, the Socialists face a choice. They can try to co-op the middle or they can hold fast to the far left. They are moving left. The Socialists have begun to cannibalize their fellow Socialists, starting with Royal. The men of the left are taking over again. Their experiment with a woman at the head of the campaign is over.

Here come the political cannibals

?Every morning, on opening the paper, I ask myself which Socialist will attack me now, over what I have to say or what I do,? complained Royal last week. She advocates moving the Socialists toward the center. She observed the appeal of François Bayrou, who mounted a spirited centrist campaign for president and now talks of establishing a new center-left party that could supplant the Socialists. Bayrou might create a party modeled on other moderate European Social Democratic parties. Such a party might appeal to enough voters to have a chance to win.

Far from coming together, the factions are widening the rifts. The party leaders, not least Royal and François Hollande, who is the father of her children and also the Socialist Party leader, are arguing about basic policies and positions on issues and how to modernize the party. This is a role reversal for Royal and Hollande and she is having difficulty yielding the spotlight. Hollande, as party leader, is out front, in control again, back at the podium. Royal watches from the sidelines and insists that she will play a key role in the fight for parliamentary seats next month as well as in guiding the party into the future. But Hollande has said that he is against courting the centrists. Hollande is seeking an arrangement with the Greens. He has learned the wrong lessons. The Social Democrats in other European countries have adapted. The French Socialists have not.

Nicolas Sarkozy

He is the son of a Hungarian immigrant and the grandson of a Sephardic Jew, and now Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected president of France.

If you want to know more about the new French government, please contact Louis-Lyonel Voiron in Radnor's London office at +44 207 409 5066.

The strain will take a debilitating toll among the parties of the left and open the way for Sarkozy to move to the center and for the centrists to mobilize, perhaps behind Bayrou. Strangely, it is Royal, not Hollande, who seems to understand this practical problem for the left. She knows the election was not just about her sex. It was about her preparedness to assume leadership and her party's positions on key issues. She knows that Sarkozy is correct. France cannot continue the current path. The world has changed and France must, too, or be left behind.

The political, liberal left has a problem. Globalization makes Europe?s old Social Democratic promise - to create economic growth that lifts the poor and middle class as well as the fortunate - nearly impossible to achieve. If someone in Asia will do your job for less than you will, then your job probably is headed for Asia, no matter what your political party or union tries to do to prevent it.

For over 60 years Europe?s governments found it possible to redistribute income and wealth through taxes, work rules and labor agreements negotiated by strong unions. Today, globalization and the resulting competition are taking a toll on unions and unionized workers. Governments have less power because capital is so mobile. Sarkozy says he will create more and better jobs by deregulating the labor market and giving employers more freedom to dismiss unneeded or unproductive workers. Sarkozy suggests that a more open job market will benefit not just the mainstream French, but will also benefit the immigrant population.

The 44 percent future

They heard this message in the banlieue, the suburbs crammed with immigrants and the children of immigrants. These desperate areas, so lacking in hope for so long, found something in Sarkozy?s message.

This is France?s 44 percent future: 44 percent of the voters in the banlieue voted for Sarkozy. That astounded the intractable of the left who predicted that Royal would get 70 to 80 percent of the immigrant vote.

Immigrant mothers, Muslim or not, do not want to send their children out to play in unsafe, troubled streets. Immigrant mothers do not want to raise their children for a life of joblessness and despair. Like French women elsewhere, they see a future that requires change today. They have signaled that they understand that accommodation and assimilation are the paths to progress for their families. They are willing to change. They are willing to work. They are practical voters. In that, they are very French. And they are a large part of France?s future.

Yes, the woman lost. But the women of France got their way.

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