Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bad news for Britain as Sarkozy fails to convince his own party

Now I'm no expert in French politics but the news that Nicolas Sarkozy only won 69% of the vote in the UMP (centre right) primary for President, despite being unopposed, probably doesn't bode well for his chances in the general election. It is well known that Jaques Chiraq and Dominique de Villepin are not fans, but the fact that the splits in the party go so much deeper surprise me.

Given the fact that the Socialists, after flirting with disappearing up their own backsides, have chosen the telegenic populist Segolene Royal this means that Sarkozy has a real fight on his hands if he is to succeed Chiraq. Sarkozy has, as I understand it, limited cross over appeal to the centre left. If he can't rally the centre right behind him, and prevent too many votes leaking to the far right, he is sunk.

This is bad news for Britain. Although not usually a fan of the centre right, nor the populism on immigration that Sarkozy has made the hallmark of his time as interior minister, in this case I think he is the better candidate in terms of the UK's interest. France has long been one of the biggest bocks within Europe to the liberalisation of markets, both within the EU and without. It is in the UK's interests for mainland Europe to move towards the liberalised markets we have in services and utilities as it will allow British companies to compete on a level playing field with their European competitors. In terms of social justice France has been the largest road block in the path of reforming the Common Agricultural Policy and its market distorting subsidies that prevent farmers in the developing world gaining fair access to Europe's consumers. I think in these areas a France under Sarkozy, although undoubtedly still a laggard in these areas, would be preferable to one led by Royale. She, although probably more liberal than some of the dinosaurs in her party, is hardly a prophet of free markets. She has for instance criticised the rules that restrict French employees to working for only 35hrs a week as being too liberal.

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