When Segolene Royal apologized to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero over French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s allegedly nasty remark, she sparked a nastier row – against the ruling party and within her own Socialist Party.
The domestic row over French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s alleged remarks about the Spanish prime minister showed no signs of abating, with Socialist politician Ségolène Royal apologizing for her political foe’s apparent gaff to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero.
In an interview with the French daily, Le Parisien on Tuesday, Royal confirmed that she apologized to the Spanish leader for Sarkozy’s failure to "control his language and behaviour” and said it was an assault not only on foreign figures, but also on the French people.
“Today, when one reads the international press, it’s a shame to be French,” Royal also said in an interview with the French TV station France 2 on Monday evening. She promised to speak up “each time there is an ethical failure in this respect,” by the French head of state.
Sarkozy’s offending comments grabbed headlines across the country when the French daily, Liberation reported that Sarkozy criticized his Spanish counterpart at a dinner with lawmakers at the Elysee Palace last week during which he said that Zapatero was “not very smart”.
The political spat over Royal’s apology to Zapatero has exposed frissons not only between Sarkozy and the candidate he defeated in the 2007 presidential elections, but also within the Socialist Party itself.
Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry has been noticeably silent on the issue, exposing the rifts between the two women since last December’s acrimonious power struggle for the opposition party’s top spot.
This is not the first time Royal has apologized for Sarkozy’s comments. On a visit to Senegal earlier this year, Royal apologized to Africans for a 2007 speech by Sarkozy suggesting Africa was backward.
From the ‘Sarkozy school’
Noting Royal’s recent fall in the opinion polls, Gaël Siman of the BVA Institute, a French polling group, said Aubry's silence underlines a bare minimum support by Socialist Party leaders: “One gets the impression that the Socialist Party leaders do not see Royal as a rival any more,” Siman told the AFP.
There is little doubt that Royal has a political survival strategy. Her goal could be to place herself as the principal opponent to Sarkozy. “She is no more a regional representative who lost the party’s leadership,” Mariette Sineau, research director of the Paris-based National Centre for Scientific Research, told FRANCE 24. “She has to continue to make her political mark right up to 2011, when the Socialist Party chooses its presidential candidate. To survive on the political scene for two years is a long haul if you don’t have a strategic political position.”
Sineau notes that in a strange way, Royal seems to be in exactly the same position as her UMP rival was a couple of years ago. “When Sarkozy was a minister under [former French President] Jacques Chirac, he did not hesitate to have a dig at the presidential role.There is however a difference in scale: he did succeed in taking charge of the UMP.”
In politically tricky territory
But is the strategy paying off? Jean-Louis Bianco, a close Royal ally, believes it is working. “If she does not raise her profile, she will not be noticed,” he said. “The hysterical reactions from the UMP show that she has put her finger onto something.”
In France though, one does not criticize the president of the Republic with impunity. By publicly targeting Sarkozy’s style on the hallowed ground of international relations, Royal is in tricky territory. “It can be shocking for some French people for whom the presidential role is sacred,” said Sineau.
Whether this strategy will work, only future opinion polls will show.
Date created : 2009-04-21