Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin has announced that he will run for president in 2012, launching his own party, Republique Solidaire (“United Republic”) in Paris on Saturday.
De Villepin served as minister of foreign affairs between 2002 and 2004; as minister of the interior between 2004 and 2005; and as prime minister between 2005 and 2007. He was Jacques Chirac’s favorite for the presidency that year until Nicolas Sarkozy managed to secure the nomination for France’s right-wing party UMP.
In recent years, De Villepin has emerged as a fierce critic of Sarkozy’s, complaining in last Friday’s Le Monde that his administration’s “dominant trait was that it was developing policies with pollsters who every day look at the surveys and ask what publicity stunt they can score.”
Polling data suggest that De Villepin would stand little chance to secure the presidency with barely 8 percent of Frenchmen supporting his bid. Nonetheless, his approval ratings hover near 50 percent which is a far cry from Sarkozy’s own popularity. The president’s approval ratings have sharply decreased in recent weeks to end up balancing around 33 percent.
The dire state of the economy is largely to blame for the mounting discontent shared by French voters. The socialists are prospering, picking up half of the votes nationwide in March’s regional elections, while President Sarkozy’s government is forced to enact austerity measures.
Like much of Europe, France has been unable to control its deficit in the wake of the financial meltdown two years ago. The debt crisis that is raging across the continent won’t stop at France’s borders. Protectionist measures on the part of the Sarkozy government have been able to prevent mass unemployment for now but already, protests are underway because of a scheduled rise of the retirement age from 60 to 62.
De Villepin offers nothing new in this regard. In a recent interview, he even lambasted Europe’s finance rules, describing the 3 percent deficit maximum as “unrealistic.” Brussels, meanwhile, is considering tougher budget rules.
The smooth, patrician De Villepin is downplayed as a bit illuminé — -deranged — by the Sarkozy camp but he may well end up denying them the presidency in 2012. The fact that he has never submitted himself to an election is playing into the hands of critics who like to portray De Villepin as out-of-touch with ordinary voters.
The former prime minister himself claims that he is speaking on behalf of “the orphans of the Republic, les déçus de la politique,” the people disappointed by politics. “That accounts for half of France,” he told Le Monde.
De Villepin probably won’t score enough point to make it through the first round of the presidential election in 2012. But his very candidacy is undermining Sarkozy and the UMP and will weaken them in the years ahead up to the point that they are faced with a strong Socialist Party adversary.