[Marxism] Segolene Royal: Is This the Next President of France? (WSJ)
walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Feb 10 09:35:30 MST 2007
(Business leaders are concerned about her economic rhetoric so far,
including plans to give unions more power. She rails against stock
options, "greedy profits" and "wild capitalism," and is likely to
propose that French citizens abroad start to pay some taxes at home.)
February 10, 2007
Is This the Next President of France?
On 'Sexiest' List and Populist Fast Track,
Candidate Reflects New Distaste for Old Guard
By ALESSANDRA GALLONI
February 10, 2007
PARIS -- During her campaign to become France's first woman
president, Ségolène Royal has been photographed in a turquoise
bikini, appeared in a gay magazine with a naked man on the cover and
suspended a top campaign aide for poking fun at her longtime
The 53-year-old mother of four has praised China for the efficiency
of its justice system and criticized the most sacred of French cows,
the 35-hour workweek. Many senior members of her Socialist Party
aren't sure whether to call Ms. Royal's campaign a bold or amateurish
foray into the hallowed halls of French presidential politics.
Even party boss François Hollande is often irked -- and for him, it's
personal as well as political. He is the father of Ms. Royal's
children, though the two never married, and had his own designs on
the French presidency. "I should have been the candidate," he said in
an interview. "But I thought, if Ségolène has more of a chance, I
won't stand in her way."
When Ms. Royal last year suggested ordinary citizens should oversee
elected officials to improve French democracy, Mr. Hollande balked at
his partner's populist bent. "I told her, 'Don't go around saying
this. Why are you doing it?' " he recalled in an interview. The
French public had a different reaction, he acknowledged: "They all
came to her defense."
Since she first hinted at a run for the presidency in a French gossip
magazine, Paris Match, in 2005, Ms. Royal's crowd-pleasing proposals
and glamorous looks have transformed her from a back-bench Socialist
politician into one of the two front-runners for France's highest
"It's the French people who have given me legitimacy," Ms. Royal said
during a recent car ride between campaign stops. "After the Paris
Match article, there was a popular uprising. The French people wanted
Her rapid rise speaks to the growing disconnect in France, and
throughout much of Europe, between an aging generation of leaders and
voters who feel their economic and social concerns are going unheard.
By basing her campaign on a simple proposition of listening to the
people, she has tapped into a sense of public disaffection rooted
particularly in France's inability to create jobs. That is prompting
voters to reach for something new and antipolitical -- even if they
don't know quite what it is.
Visit Segolene Royal's official Web site:
"I can't say how things will change," says Nasser Ledrac, a
23-year-old university student who was handing out leaflets for Ms.
Royal in the poor Paris suburb of Bondy late last year. "What I like
about her is that she doesn't hesitate to shake things up."
A recent series of personal and diplomatic gaffes has left Ms. Royal
trailing her main rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, by
several percentage points in the latest polls. Mr. Sarkozy too is
claiming rebel status within his party, despite being a longtime
force within the administration of current President Jacques Chirac.
With the first round of elections on April 22, the race remains
Ms. Royal has come this far by tossing ideology out the window and by
selling her personality instead of her beliefs, a phenomenon rarely
seen in continental Europe. An attractive brunette who favors white
skirt-suits made by French designer Paule Ka, Ms. Royal often has
dodged policy debates. Asked during the car ride to discuss her
record as current president of France's Poitou-Charentes region, Ms.
Royal snapped: "Haven't you talked to my chief of staff about that?"
Despite a 25-year career in the Socialist Party, she portrays herself
as an outsider. Promising a break with the past, she beat out elder
statesmen known as "elephants" for the nomination and has all but
ditched the party's official platform for her own version -- due to
be unveiled this Sunday. Her platform, she says, will be based
largely on ideas gathered from some 6,000 town-hall meetings with
voters, smaller coffeehouse sessions dubbed "café Ségolène," and 2.8
million visitors to her campaign Web site.
In speeches she often evokes her own struggle between maternity and a
career, and recently noted how democracy is like amour -- the more
there is, the more it grows, she said. She recently decorated the
hallway of Socialist Party headquarters in Paris with 2007 red roses.
Last summer, she was voted the world's sixth-sexiest woman in a poll
by the French edition of FHM men's magazine, behind Angelina Jolie
and ahead of Elizabeth Hurley.
So far, Ms. Royal's popular appeal has given her the upper hand with
her party and her partner, Mr. Hollande. Though flummoxed by some of
her remarks, most of the Socialist elite concede she's their best
shot at winning back power after 12 years of Mr. Chirac's
conservative rule. During this time, France has not resolved key
economic problems, such as high unemployment among young people, the
increasing cost of a generous social-welfare system and tensions in
the fast-growing immigrant population.
"I had no idea she would rise so fast," says Mr. Hollande.
Her approach isn't foolproof, and her success is by no means
guaranteed. Among her recent foreign policy gaffes was a diplomatic
flap with Canada's government after Ms. Royal suggested last month
that she supported sovereignty for Quebec. "She's very intelligent,
but she doesn't have a geopolitical grounding," said French economist
and scholar Jacques Attali, who first hired her as a presidential
aide in 1982, in an interview late last year.
Business leaders are concerned about her economic rhetoric so far,
including plans to give unions more power. She rails against stock
options, "greedy profits" and "wild capitalism," and is likely to
propose that French citizens abroad start to pay some taxes at home.
While managers are glad she has hinted at making the maximum 35-hour
workweek more expandable, they would like her to explain how. "What
has she said about ...job contracts? We haven't heard anything," says
Paul Hermelin, the chief executive of the large French consulting and
information-technology company Capgemini Group.
At the same time, strains in her not-so-private relationship with Mr.
Hollande, the party leader, have highlighted wider tensions between
Ms. Royal and the Socialists over who is in charge. "They think
they're professionals and that she's not," says Zaki Laidi, a
professor at the Institute d'Études Politiques who has published a
book called "Emerging From Social Pessimism."
Ms. Royal dressed down her partner in public last month after he said
the Socialists wanted to raise income taxes for people who earn more
than €4,000 per month, roughly $65,000 a year. After the spat, a top
aide to Ms. Royal said on television that her only flaw was "her
She suspended the aide for a month, but the episode fueled rumors in
the French press that the couple have effectively split and are only
keeping up appearances. Given a chance to clarify their personal
relationship in the interview late last year, Mr. Hollande said only,
"Whether we are a couple or we're not is irrelevant." Ms. Royal has
declined to discuss the question.
The French also are puzzling over something else: How, after 20 years
in Mr. Hollande's shadow, Ms. Royal has snatched away the life her
partner had mapped out for himself, and what consequences this might
have on a Socialist administration. According to a poll last month in
Le Parisien newspaper, 47% of French voters feel the couple's
respective roles in the party are unclear.
Ms. Royal's desire to break from the establishment dates back to her
childhood. In interviews, Ms. Royal, who was born in the then-French
colony of Senegal where she lived until she was eight, has described
a strict upbringing dominated by her father Jacques, a devoutly
Catholic, conservative army colonel.
The fourth of eight children, the young Marie-Ségolène and her two
sisters were taught to tend to the home so they could find suitable
husbands. "I understood at an early age that I didn't want to end up
like the other women at my house," Ms. Royal said on French radio
Marie-Ségolène's good grades gained her entrance to the Institut
d'Etudes Politiques in Paris, an elite university. She fled to the
French capital, ditched the "Marie" in her name, and spent the rest
of her life rebelling against the patriarchal, conservative values
embodied by her father.
Colleagues say Ms. Royal inherited his exacting style, however. "She
likes to control all decisions that are taken," says Poitiers mayor
and fellow Socialist Jacques Santrot, describing Ms. Royal's reign as
regional president. Other Socialists were shocked recently when she
sent out detailed instructions on how to run a town-hall meeting,
including photos on how to organize seats2 and a directive to invite
10 times the holding capacity of the hall.
Mr. Hollande says she's simply a strong-willed thinker. "She's not
afraid of conflict. She's not afraid of telling you you're wrong or
if she doesn't like you, of not shaking your hand," he says. "She
doesn't care about protocol."
Ms. Royal and Mr. Hollande met at the elite graduate school that
breeds French heads of state, the École Nationale d'Administration.
The two started dating, and Mr. Hollande, already a Socialist
activist, introduced her to left-wing political circles. Mr. Attali,
then a special adviser to Socialist President Francois Mitterrand,
discovered the couple and hired them to work at the Elysée, France's
presidential palace, in 1982.
Mr. Hollande was the rising star. He had graduated near the top of
his class and joined President Mitterrand's council of economic
advisers. Ms. Royal landed the less-prominent portfolio of health,
environmental and youth issues.
Yet Mr. Attali was impressed by the young woman's raw determination,
even compared to her partner. "He has a sense of humor and would have
succeeded in any other job," he recalls. "She has no humor at all.
For her, politics is vital... and nothing has ever been
Mr. Hollande agrees: "She's tougher than I am."
While at the Elysée, Ms. Royal had the couple's first two children,
Thomas in 1984 and Clemence in 1985. She sowed the seeds of a
political career centered on family issues. Colleagues say Ms. Royal
believes children, not couples, form the family nucleus. Ms. Royal
would go home to feed the children and then return to the Elysée
Palace to work, friends recall. Writing a 1989 book called "The Baby
Channel-Surfers Are Fed Up," Ms. Royal decried violence in children's
At the Elysée, Ms. Royal befriended Sophie Bouchet-Petersen, a
feminist and left-wing intellectual who remains the candidate's
sounding board. "Ségolène was always a feminist before being a
Socialist," says Ms. Bouchet-Petersen.
Ms. Royal's path diverged from Mr. Hollande's. He was promoted to
spokesman for two Socialist governments and was elected to the
National Assembly. She remained at the Elysée. "Our political lives
have always been separate," says Mr. Hollande. "I've always said to
her: 'You try your lot without me.' "
Ms. Royal's first big break came in 1988 when she ran for the
National Assembly in a small, normally conservative constituency in
the western Poitou-Charentes region and won. Then, during a brief
stint as environmental affairs minister, she won broader notice: When
she had Flora, her fourth child with Mr. Hollande, in 1992, she
invited photographers into her hospital room to snap photos of her
and the baby.
The stunt brought a normally private moment, even for public women,
into French living rooms. "She made herself known as a young woman
who was accepting her maternity and talking about it openly while
working," recalls Mr. Hollande. "This wasn't an ordinary thing in
France." A year after Flora's birth, Ms. Royal was re-elected in
She wasn't rewarded with the cabinet post she wanted in 1997, when
Socialist Lionel Jospin became prime minister during a period of
power-sharing under Mr. Chirac. Ms. Royal's main female rival in her
party, Martine Aubry, got the key Labor Ministry. Ms. Royal was given
the less prominent post of minister for education, and then for
family affairs. She thought she deserved more, said Mr. Hollande, who
became the Socialist Party's national secretary, a key political
Ms. Royal used her new position to introduce paternity leave and free
distribution of the morning-after pill in high schools. Friends and
colleagues say she also began plotting her revenge for the slight:
a bid for France's highest office.
Her launching pad came seven years later, in 2004, when she ran for
president of Poitou-Charentes and, again, defeating forecasts, she
"She became a symbol of victory for the Left," says Mr. Hollande.
"People started talking about her, and she was on the covers of
French magazines," before she adopted her current polished look. He
quips: "She wasn't wearing white yet."
In her new post, Ms. Royal revamped her appearance. She cut her hair
into a stylish bob, wore heels and abandoned trousers for skirts that
just skim the knee.
She summoned old friends: Ms. Bouchet-Petersen, the feminist from the
Elysée, and Jean-Luc Fulachier, her former chief of staff at the
family affairs ministry. Ms. Bouchet-Petersen handled the theory, Mr.
Fulachier the practice, and Poitou-Charentes became the testing
ground for democracy, Royal-style.
Ms. Royal has tried to give the people of Poitou-Charentes a bigger
role in government. For example, students, parents and teachers
decide via secret ballot how to spend 10% of the regional budget for
high schools. Last year, their votes led to more garbage cans, new
school-bell tones and a vegetable garden, according to regional
Ms. Royal introduced financial aid for entrepreneurs and local
"citizen juries," whereby residents are chosen randomly to evaluate
laws for their community. The measures have been hugely popular. "She
has applied the ideas of the people, which is good," says Rachel
Merlet, a 43-year-old mother selected to a "citizen jury" in the town
of Cerizay in December.
Ms. Royal's outsider positioning drew Socialists who felt
marginalized. One was Gilbert Roger, mayor of the Parisian suburb of
Bondy, one of the mostly immigrant communities hit by violent rioting
in October 2005. During the riots, the Socialist Party agreed to
imposing a curfew on Bondy, which Mr. Roger thought would be
ineffective. "They didn't even ask me what I thought," recalls Mr.
Roger. "There was a total gap between the political apparatchik and
the reality of the land."
In January 2006, Ms. Royal went to Chile to visit Socialist
presidential hopeful Michelle Bachelet, accompanied by Patrick
Menucci, a former car salesman and restaurateur who was a Socialist
city councilman in Marseilles. The trip won big publicity for Ms.
Royal -- partly thanks to newspapers criticizing her wearing heels to
a Chilean slum. It also won her a close aide in the boisterous Mr.
Menucci. Last year, when a rival of Ms. Royal's was reported as
saying "If she wins, who will look after the children?" Mr. Menucci
berated him publicly. "I'm seen as a macho kind of man, so it meant a
lot to her that I defended her," he adds.
Last April, the center-right government faced a crisis. Students and
unions took to the streets to protest a labor-reform law making it
easier to fire young hires. The law was aimed at making France's
rigid job market more flexible, but youths decried it as a path to
insecurity. The protests became a symbol of economic and social
malaise in France, particularly over the 22% jobless rate among
people under 25. Mr. Chirac eventually was forced to withdraw the
Amid the protests, Ms. Royal's promises to listen to people's
problems and her call for a "just order" resonated with voters. "She
understood the state of the people," says Mr. Hollande. "She
portrayed an image that she could protect them from their fear of the
By the summer, Mr. Hollande realized that he wouldn't have a chance
himself against Ms. Royal in the party primaries. "I could have gone
against her, but the French people wouldn't have understood."
In the November primaries, Ms. Royal trounced a former prime minister
and finance minister. Speaking after her official nomination, she
evoked French Revolution-era feminist Olympe de Gouges and thanked
Socialists for choosing a woman candidate. She also quoted her
Chilean friend, by then elected president herself: "As Michelle
Bachelet says, nothing would be possible without men." Before the
speech, Ms. Royal stood before the pink backdrop of the auditorium
stage for several minutes, basking in the applause.
Now, cracks are starting to appear in the Royal campaign. During a
trip to Beirut late last year, Ms. Royal was criticized at home for
not immediately reacting when a Hezbollah lawmaker compared Israel's
former occupation of Lebanon to that of the Nazis in World War II
France. Ms. Royal aides claimed the remark was omitted by their
translator and they brushed off the affair. "If the television images
of her today are as good as those yesterday, it'll be fine," Francois
Rebsamen, one of Ms. Royal's campaign managers, reassured an aide on
the phone shortly after the incident.
But the gaffes have been adding up. In China last month, Ms. Royal
said France could learn from the speed of the justice system in China
-- a country often criticized for its human-rights record.
Days after her remarks on Quebec sovereignty, a famous French
comedian called Ms. Royal pretending to be Quebec's prime minister.
During the call, which he recorded and then aired on French radio, he
compared her comments to supporting independence for the French
Mediterranean island of Corsica, where sovereignty also is a divisive
issue. Ms. Royal joked that the French wouldn't mind, but then
hurriedly added: "Don't repeat that. It will create another incident
in France." It did, prompting derision from the Sarkozy camp.
Ms. Royal has acknowledged "a moment of tension" in the campaign. She
and aides are pinning much hope on Sunday's speech, but bracing for
more turbulence. "I knew the battle would be tough," she said this
week. "And we haven't seen everything yet."
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