IMF Chief’s Sexual Assault Charges Impact French Election

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s legal predicament is likely to have an impact on French presidential politics.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, participates in a panel discussion in Washington DC, April 15
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, participates in a panel discussion in Washington DC, April 15 (IMF/Stephen Jaffe)

The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, on charges of attempted rape in New York City this weekend will probably make it impossible for the Socialist to run against Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential election.

Until Saturday, the former French finance minister was seen as the left’s best hope of recapturing the presidency next year.

Although he was known as something of a womanizer, Strauss-Kahn was able to appeal to centrists — unlike many of the other presidential contenders in his party.

In a survey conducted for the popular magazine Paris Match last month, Strauss-Kahn was the only Socialist Party candidate who beat Sarkozy in a hypothetical runoff with 61 against 39 percent support.

Unpopular

Sarkozy is deeply unpopular. Both the right-wing Front national and the left-wing Socialist Party are on the rise.

The conservative president first tries to appeal to the center by moderating his economic policy, but since the revival of the far right in France, he has pushed for pension reform — despite heavy opposition from the left — and a stricter immigration policy.

Last year, Sarkozy’s government deported hundreds of Roma and Gypsies to Romania and Bulgaria, offering them a financial incentive to leave France voluntarily.

The move was criticized by members of the president’s own center-right party and did little to boost his popularity.

This year, Sarkozy nevertheless picked a diplomatic fight with neighboring Italy over the influx of thousands of Tunisian refugees, even shutting France’s border for immigrants despite Europe’s open-border policy.

Sidelining the IMF

Strauss-Kahn’s widely anticipated entry in the Socialist Party’s presidential primary convinced Sarkozy to attempt to reduce the IMF’s role in rewriting international financial regulations in the wake of the 2008 downturn. France was reluctant to accept the fund’s participation in the bailout of Greece last year, advocating a European approach. It was overruled by Germany.

With France chairing both the G8 and the G20 this year, Sarkozy has tried to enhance the role of both forums, in particular the latter, in pushing for global economic reform.

With Strauss-Kahn now out of the race, the remaining contenders include Martine Aubry, the daughter of former European Commission president Jacques Delors, and François Hollande, Aubry’s predecessor as party secretary and the ex-partner of Ségolène Royal, who ran for president in 2007 but lost by some two million votes.