Monday, November 29, 2004

Sarkozy gets the UMP ... and loses finance

Nicolas Sarkozy, the man generally admitted to be President Chirac’s biggest rival, has been elected as Chairman of the ruling Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). Wary of his rival’s rise, Chirac has insisted that, unprecedentedly, Sarkozy would have to resign as member of the cabinet. Clearly, Sarkozy has decided that becoming leader of the party was “worth a mass”, that is his high profile as Finance Minister.

Chirac has immediately appointed a close ally, the former Agriculture Minister, Hervé Gaymard, who, as news agencies have pointed out, is part of the political establishment to a far greater extent than Sarkozy ever was.

Gaymard is an Enarque, that is a graduate of the high-powered, highly selective and (eat your heart out Charles Clarke) elitist to the nth degree, Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA). Sarkozy had always presented himself as a self-made lawyer, who had as little time for the establishment as they for him. One must also add that Sarkozy is unusual in that so far there seem to be no whispers of nefarious dealings of any kind. Perhaps, as a man of Hungarian origin, he just hides them better. Or perhaps, he really does have clean hands.

Sarkozy had come to his office eight months ago with a reputation of being something of a free-marketeer – at least among the wishfully inclined Anglo-Saxon media. In fact, he proved himself every bit as interventionist and protectionist as all his predecessors.

His latest budget proposal is a tough one, slashing public spending to reduce France’s deficit to within the supposedly permitted 3 per cent of GDP. However, President Chirac promised some tax cuts in his last election campaign. It will be interesting to see how M Gaymard will square the circle (or not).

In the meantime, M Chirac might like to look at other countries’ modern history (though as a true son of France he probably does not like doing too much of that). It is not always the high profile ministers who win political battles. All too often victory goes to the man who is in charge of the party and, consequently, the cadres.

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