Trouble is looming in France’s ruling Union for a Popular Majority (UMP). As expected for some time, its chairman Alain Juppé has resigned. In fact, he was expected to resign some time ago but refused to do so.
Yesterday he finally declared:
Well, at least he did not say he wanted to spend more time with his family. The torment he has just been through is a trial for what was effectively fraud, that is using public funds in his days as Chief of Finance in the city of Paris to give fake jobs to his colleagues in the party. And why did the Mayor of Paris not find this out or, having found it out, perhaps reprimand or sack his Chief of Finance? Something to do with the identity of the Mayor, none other than Jacques Chirac.
"As I announced earlier, I resign today from my duties as chairman of our party. I am leaving political life to give myself peace after the torment I have just been through."
In fact Juppé’s resignation was required by the court. He was sentenced to 18 months but the sentence was suspended, and barred from public office for ten years. He is appealing the sentence but that will not be heard till late October.
Meanwhile the party needs a chief, bearing in mind that Juppé was also Chirac’s favourite to succeed. At present that role is fulfilled by Dominique de Villepin, the Foreign Minister who ensured France’s near isolation during the run-up to the Iraq war. He has now gone.
The obvious person to become leader of the party is Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made no secret that he wants to succeed Chirac and the sooner the better. Chirac has explained publicly during his Bastille Day interview, that Sarkozy’s role is to obey the President’s orders, but many commentators doubt this analysis of French political life.
According to Chirac, if Sarkozy becomes leader of the party he will have to resign as Economic Minister. This contradicts the fact that both Chirac and Juppé have managed to combine leadership of the UMP and ministerial positions. But Chirac is clearly hoping that Sarkozy will be caught in a bind: on the one hand, leadership of the party is the obvious way to the top; on the other hand if he stops being a minister, he will lose his present popularity, unique among the UMP leadership.
Sarkozy has not yet announced his bid for the leadership and neither has the other possible contender, the Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. He, on the other hand, is not all that popular, having just presided over two crushing defeats for the party in regional and European elections.
Of course, it is President Chirac who really presided over those defeats, but he tends to suffer from amnesia at time like this.