EU issues in the early French presidential campaign

Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy, two likely candidates to the French presidential elections in 2007 currently at the top of opinion polls, have already given their views on the big European issues. 

The two main political parties in France, the Socialist Party and the UMP (centre-right), should appoint their official candidates in the forthcoming months. Although the issue is not settled yet, especially in the Socialist Party, two main figures can be seen as the potential future candidates: Ségolène Royal for the Socialists and the current home affairs minister and UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy. 

These two media-friendly figures recently gave indications on issues which are currently at the top of the European agenda. 

The future of the European Union

The two candidates have very different views on how to re-launch the European project after the failure of the Constitution.  

Royal promotes a consensual leftist vision of the EU. She knows Europe will be hard to deal with as the French Socialist Party remains highly divided after the referendum campaign on the Constitutional Treaty when it almost split up. She believes the Constitutional Treaty should be renegotiated to add a stronger social dimension. Moreover, she proposes a new concept: the so-called “Europe by the proof” (l’Europe par la preuve), which is a “mix of emulation, harmonisation (on taxes and social standards) and mutualisation” (common research programmes, etc.). Even though she calls for a new treaty, she approves all the measures included in the original text intended to enhance EU role on the international stage (a President of the Union, a Ministry for Foreign Affairs with a diplomatic service, etc.).

In the opposite camp, Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled the three main lines  of his European agenda:

  • On the future of the Constitutional Treaty, Sarkozy proposes to adopt only the first part of the Treaty through a vote in the French Parliament, and not a new referendum. 
  • He urges to halt the enlargement process and to launch a debate on the future of the EU (including a clear definition of its boarders). 
  • He believes the six biggest countries should gather in a kind of ‘directoire’ in charge of giving impulsions for further integration. 

Labour reform

Street demonstrations of the French youth this spring highlighted how sensitive labour market issues are. Nicolas Sarkozy already announced a couple of innovative measures he will take if he is elected. The most controversial one is the reform of French working contracts. To replace the countless contracts currently in force, Sarkozy wants to introduce one new single contract. This contract would be “more flexible and progressively strengthening workers’ rights”. He also calls for a deep reform of the French jobless centre (ANPE), saying he is not against the idea of contracting out a part of its activities to private specialised structures. 

Royal wants to focus on lifelong learning to help workers to move from one job to another and to shorten unemployment periods. In the second chapter of her online book, she also criticises the 35-hour week, an emblematic reform of the last Socialist government, saying that the “efforts and advantages have been unequally shared”. She also expressed its support to the Nordic model and to Tony Blair’s actions at the head of the British government, suggesting she is not against bringing more flexibility into the French labour system. 

Migration

Migration has recently been a strong and controversial issue in French politics, mainly due to the tough position of current Minister for Home Affairs, Mr. Sarkozy himself, on this issue. In a draft law, currently examined by the French Parliament, he argues for ‘chosen immigration’. This means that immigrants would be selected according to objective criteria such as their level of qualification, their knowledge of the French language or their professional experience. Immigration would therefore be regulated according to the needs of the French economy. 

On the other side, Royal does not provide a clear idea of what she would do on this issue if she is elected next year. Indeed, she mainly criticised Sarkozy’s project for establishing stricter rules on family reunification of immigrants. However, she highlighted the need for a “modern legislation” on workers’ migration and for work permits delivered by regional chiefs (‘Préfets’) according to business needs.

Energy

The two candidates are more or less on the same line, arguing for big investment in renewable energies and biofuels in the next years. However, they both support nuclear energy and highlight the need to invest in R&D and nuclear power units. 

Ségolène Royal wants to put an end to EDF monopoly on electricity as she believes it is the only way to promote alternative sources of energy. This controversial proposal goes against the Socialist Party’s Programme for 2007, which was adopted last week and states that EDF should be renationalized. 

French politics is waiting for next year’s presidential elections, which will provide a successor to Jacques Chirac who is fiercely criticised by both the opposition and part of the coalition government. 

EU institutions expect the next French President to solve the crisis sparked by the French ‘no’ to the Constitutional Treaty in May 2005. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pinned her hopes on the French EU Presidency during the second half of 2008 to re-launch the European project.

  • November 2006: The Socialist Party militants will vote to choose their candidate 
  • January 2007: The UMP, Sarkozy’s party, will appoint its official candidate 
  • 22 April 2007: 1st round of the French Presidential elections
  • Parti Socialiste (PS):Site web
  • Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP):Site web

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