Pascal Perrineau, director of the Centre de Recherches Politiques at Sciences Po (CEVIPOF), believes that the 2012 election campaign has already begun. He identified two major issues that are antagonising French society.
One is the Woerth-Bettencourt affair, in which a key minister, Éric Woerth, responsible for labour, solidarity and public services, stands accused of conflict of interest, as his wife works for Liliane Bettencourt, principal shareholder at L'Oréal and the richest woman in Europe.
The Woerth-Bettencourt controversy has been dragging on since June, and Sarkozy has since seen his political ratings tumble.
In what may have been an attempt to improve his standing, the French president ordered the repatriation of Roma from Romania and Bulgaria who live in camps on French soil.
By playing hardball with the Roma, Sarkozy appears to have put the brakes on his "descent into hell," Perrineau is quoted by Europe 1 as saying, and his personal approval ratings have improved by 2%.
Indeed, 65% of the French say they approve of the expulsions and 69% are in favour of dismantling the camps, according to a poll by Opinionway published in the daily Le Figaro.
A survey published yesterday (26 August) by the Nouvel Observateur shows that Sarkozy would lose the presidential election in the second round by 41 to 59 if it were against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the current IMF chief (who is from the socialists' ranks), and by 47 to 53 against Martine Aubry, the Socialist Party (PS) leader.
It is not surprising that the campaign appears to have started so early, Perrineau explains, recalling that for the 2007 elections, the campaign had effectively started in autumn 2005. As was the case back then, there is something of a 'casting problem' in the ranks of the left, as it remains unclear who the centre-left candidate will be this time around.
Among the ranks of the centre-right, internal competition from the previous campaign between Sarkozy and Dominique de Villepin may repeat itself, Perrineau says. Indeed, De Villepin, who is still recovering from a slander process initiated by Sarkozy, strongly attacked the president for his handling of the Roma issue (EurActiv 24/08/10).
Socialist heavyweights blasted Sarkozy for the Roma expulsions. Martine Aubry lamented "France's summer of shame". Ségolène Royal, who lost to Sarkozy in the second round of the 2007 elections, said Sarkozy's internal security policies had "ruined" the country's international image.
"The moral crisis is deep. It disgusts the French," Royal added.