EU Looks on as French Socialists Hold Presidential Primaries | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.11.2006
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EU Looks on as French Socialists Hold Presidential Primaries

The woman hoping to become France's first female president says she is confident of victory in the Socialist presidential primaries -- but what would a Royal victory mean for Europe?

Along with her countrymen, Royal probably won't find out who won until Friday morning

Along with her countrymen, Royal probably won't find out who won until Friday morning

Opinion polls have suggested 53-year old Segolene Royal would be the only Socialist able to beat the right's presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy.

Royal supporters say she brings a fresh wind to the Socialist Party (PS) that has been dominated by the same handful of male figures for years and crashed to third place in the 2002 presidential election.

Royal's lead slipped

Frankreich Sozialisten suchen Präsidentschaftskandidat Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is coming second in the polls behind Royal

But Royal's strong lead over her more experienced male rivals from the party's old guard, Dominique Strauss Kahn and Laurent Fabius, has recently narrowed after a series of televised debates.

Royal was also shaken last week by the release on the Internet of a 10-month-old video in which she seemed to accuse state school teachers of not working hard enough. Teachers have a large and influential voice within the Socialist Party.

Despite her apparent lead, analyst say there is some doubt about the accuracy of the polls as they measure the preferences of traditional Socialist voters, rather than the views of the some 220,000 party members who have the right to vote in the primary.

Frank Vitner, the director of the London-based think tank, European Policy Forum, said he believes Royal will win the primaries even though she has recently been under attack.

"There is a desire for new blood," Vitner said. "She is seen as elect-able, and if the party wants to get back into office, the party has to be re-elected, so I think Royal will carry the day."

If Royal fails to win 50 percent of the ballot, Socialist members will vote again on Nov.23 to choose between her and the runner-up. That vote could be very close if Fabius and Strauss-Kahn agree to back each other.

The winner will face a tough battle against the leading candidate on the right, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, in the May 2007 elections. The latest polls suggest that a prospective run-off scenario, Royal holds a two-point advantage over Sarkozy.

Meanwhile, Germany and other EU member states are watching the primaries closely to see what the winning candidate is likely to mean for the EU.

Would Royal strain Franc-German relations

Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy is the right's presidential candiate

Vitner said that with Royal at the helm, the relationship between France and Germany would be "more difficult."

Royal has made very few comments on foreign policy and European matters. However, she has come out against a mini-treaty suggested by Sarkozy, saying she wants new negotiations on the constitution, and simultaneous EU-wide referendum. The future of Europe is a delicate issue for the Socialists after French voters' rejection of a proposed EU constitution in a referendum last year left the leftist party deeply divided.

If elected, Royal's stance could cause problems for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has said she wants to make the constitution of a focus when German takes on the rotating EU presidency in January.

Merkel's desire to maintain a good rapport with the United States could also put strain on relations between Germany and France under Royal, according to Vitner.

"Royal comes from a French intellectual tradition that is instinctively anti-American", he said. "Merkel has done a very widely respected job in repairing relations with the White House so she won't welcome any ripples from a rough relationship with Royal."

Royal's policies still unclear

Martin Koopmann from the German Council for Foreign Policy emphasizes that there is still a "great uncertainty" as to what foreign police line Royal will take.

"The socialist candidates have really avoided questions of foreign policy because otherwise they would have just burnt their fingers," he said. "But should Royal be voted in, she will have to lay out her policies in order to have a transparent campaign."

Angela Merkel bei Jacques Chirac Frankreich

Merkel's relationship with a possible President Royal is bound to look different

For his part, Sarkozy's mini-constitution proposal won some resonance in Berlin. And according to Koopmann, Sarkozy's openly pro-American stance, which clashes with that of current French President Jacques Chirac, is "more compatible" with Germany.

Sarkozy will probably not turn away from Brussels. In arguing for the European Constitution, Sarkozy said that he was the first 50-year-old in French history not to have experienced war in his country for "one simple reason: Europe."

However, Koopmann added that Germany's relationship with France under Sarkozy won't necessarily be easier than with Royal, but the "general conditions will be better."

Frankreich Referendum über die EU-Verfassung: Ja oder Nein?

France voted "No" to the EU constitution

"Sarkozy will ensure flexible co-operation with Germany, but Germany won't be at the center of the relationship," he said, adding that every new French president has to ascertain that winning a majority in the EU is almost only possible by working with Germany.

However, Koopmann said that whoever becomes France's new president, the power relationship in the EU will move from a central Franco-German driving force, to "core countries" coming together on certain issues.

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