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Personal And Ideological Fillon-Cope Rivalry Threatens UMP

France's major opposition is split between two candidates fighting to lead the party.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 11/20/2012, 4:13 AM

Fillon claims "victory"
Fillon claims "victory"
Reuters

The mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppé issued an alarm claiming that the very existence of the French center-right UMP party that he founded10 years ago was in jeopardy, adding "it is necessary to stop this confrontation".

The confrontation was between former Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Jean-Francois Copé, the party secretary, over who would become the party's president and occupy the pole position for selection as the party's nominee in the 2017 presidential election. After yesterday's party primaries, both sides claimed victory and accused the other side of electoral fraud.

The two candidates represent diametrically opposed strategies for recapturing power that the UMP has lost to the Socialists at all levels of government.

Fillon represents the centrist orientation and his strategy is to recapture the centrists who abandoned the party and voted for the socialist president Francois Holland.

Copé, in contrast, believes that the party must be a party of the right without complexes. For the party secretary, a non-observant Jew, the problem is to lure back the voters who are supporting the National Front and repeat the success of former president Nicolas Sarkozy who marginalized the National Front by taking a tough stance on law and order in the 2007 elections.

Ironically, this is also the strategy that French Socialist president Francois Mitterrand took in undermining the French Communist Party that, on the left, played an analogous role to the one that the National Front currently plays on the French right.

The party secretary warns of anti-white racism in the French suburbs and bread smeared with chocolate spread taken away from non-Muslim children during the fast of Ramadan.

Polls have found UMP supporters to be evenly divided between the two approaches.

As a vote approached, Fillon accused his rival of being confrontational for its own sake and argued that the party needed a pedagogue rather than a demagogue. Copé replied that the UMP did not need its own version of the bland Francois Hollande, but rather someone who would lead the resistance against the left wing policies of Hollande. Knowing that many UMP members favor giving former President Sarkozy a rematch against Hollande and prefer him to both candidates, Copé Has promised to step aside if Sarkozy opts for a comeback in 2017 . Fillon argues that such nostalgia is dangerous and it is time for the party to move on.

The possible self-destruction of the UMP comes at an ironic moment. French President Holland is in free-fall in the public opinion polls. Some of these opinion polls show that a rematch between Holland and Sarkozy would reverse the results of last June's elections.

The British Economist published a provocative cover story that shows French baguettes arranged like an explosive belt, arguing that France represented a greater threat to the euro zone than Greece or Spain. France has also been called upon to explain its economic situation to German officials.

The infighting in the UMP gives president Hollande political cover from his government's most important political rival.