French President Nicholas Sarkozy received two valuable political gifts this weekend.
The first was the sexual assault charges filed against International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or DSK, as he is referred to in France; the second of was the report that the French economy had grown by 1% in the first quarter of 2011, the best performance by the French economy since Q2 2006.
The French president and his UMP party are graciously withholding comment on the Strauss-Kahn arrest and the embarrassing circumstances of his being taken off a first-class Air France seat and taken to less than first-class accommodations by the New York police.
One parliamentary member did compare the incident to the television series Dallas and Strauss-Kahn to the nefarious JR Ewing – hardly the most savory character -- but this was an exception.
There is no doubt that the former French finance minister would have proven to be the most formidable candidate against Mr. Sarkozy. It would have been difficult to attack him because it was Mr. Sarkozy who had nominated him in the first place to head the International Monetary Fund.
Secondly, Strauss-Kahn with his proven fiscal experience and international connections was best placed to drain off centrist support of Sarkozy and his party. It would have been impossible for the French president to ward off both losses to Strauss-Kahn in the center and to the National Front on his right.
Up to now Sarkozy's best hope was that the French Socialists would shoot themselves in the foot, something that they and the French left have a penchant for doing. A Strauss-Kahn candidacy would definitely have helped the extreme left, but if it came to a second round against the incumbent, there is little doubt that the polls would have been vindicated. The left, hungry for power and a return to the Elysee presidential palace, would have voted in Strauss-Kahn.
Now the UMP can sit back and allow others to do the job. Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front party, wrote off Strauss-Kahn as a 2012 presidential candidate:"The case and the charges ... mark the end of his campaign and pre-campaign for the presidency and will most likely prompt the IMF to ask him to leave his post," Le Pen said in a television interview.
This view was endorsed from the other side of the spectrum by Jacques Attali, the financial adviser to former French President Francois Mitterand: "Whatever the outcome of the procedure is, [Mr. Strauss-Kahn] will not be able to run for president."
The economic spurt, with strong performance in manufacturing, is gratifying to Sarkozy. It appears to uphold the government's economic optimism. France's economy minister Christine Lagarde said she was now "very confident that the (government) forecast of 2% growth for 2011 can be met".
While this probably would not have sufficed against Strauss-Kahn, it would definitely make an impression versus a candidate of the left with less stellar economic credentials. This figure does not match Germany's, but it is better than other Eurozone countries.