French Socialist Couple May Face Off for Presidency

An unmarried couple with four children may vie for the Socialist Party nomination for president of France, according to an AP report.

They are France’s power couple: He is the Socialist Party boss, and she is the party’s most popular politician. Now, Francois Hollande and Segolene Royal might end up competing against each other in the 2007 presidential race. While Hollande is bespectacled and somewhat bland, Royal is the darling of the polls, with a disarming smile and crisp, chic suits. In a country where women make up only 12 percent of parliament, she seems the more unlikely candidate for president.  And that’s exactly why people like her.

Royal, 52, campaigns for some of the traditional family values that are usually the terrain of the right. She has not unveiled a platform and is untested on economic and international affairs. She has often seemed on the Socialist fringe.  Yet France is looking for fresh ideas, especially after three weeks of rioting swept the country last fall, exposing deep problems of unemployment, disenfranchisement and racism faced by youths in poor neighborhoods. Many think Royal might be the left’s best weapon against Nicolas Sarkozy, the law-and-order interior minister who is a strong potential candidate for the right.

Her popularity “is a way for people to get a message out: ‘We want new personalities … modern personalities, like a woman in politics who has four children,” said Bruno Jeanbart of the CSA polling agency. A CSA poll in Le Parisien newspaper this month suggested that 42 percent of the French want Royal to stand for the Socialists. The next on the list, 68-year-old former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, was far behind, at 24 percent.  Hollande, 51, scored just 12 percent.

The couple says there is no domestic discord over the nomination — if both decide to run, they will let party members decide on the best candidate in November. “I don’t reproach her for being popular, that would be absurd,” Hollande said recently. In an interview in Paris-Match magazine in September, Royal said she will stand for election if asked by the party. That also means getting Hollande’s approval: “It’s only possible if Francois asks me and supports me,” she said.

The two met at the prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration and graduated in 1980. They have four children together but never married. After the Socialists pushed through a 1999 law giving some legal rights to unmarried couples — including gays — Hollande and Royal signed on.

It’s difficult to imagine this scenario playing out in the United States or, indeed, in any Western democracy other than France.  One wonders, if Royal is much more popular than Hollande, who she is not the party boss.

Moreover, the idea that socialism is a “fresh idea,” let alone in France, is absurd beyond words.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.