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Villepin challenges Sarkozy with yet-to-be-named party

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-26

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has detailed plans to create a new “independent political movement”, publicly challenging his bitter rival President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Thursday the official launch of his new “independent political movement” will take place on June 19, in time to take on President Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential elections.

Villepin kept an unusually low profile during regional elections earlier this month in which Sarkozy’s ruling conservative UMP party suffered a stinging defeat, choosing to go on a conveniently-timed trip to China instead. Now Villepin seems intent on using Sarkozy’s political troubles to boost his dormant political career.

“I believe the government has failed on two levels, politically and strategically,” said the former minister, accusing Sarkozy’s policies of fomenting social inequalities, fuelling far-right extremism and failing to rein in unemployment.

“I feel ill at ease with the majority party’s policies,” Villepin told reporters in a press conference, calling for “a change in political direction”.

“Only clear political change can put France back on its feet. We have to return to France’s fundamental values,” declared Villepin, who describes himself as an heir of Gaullist traditions and a staunch defender of the “French republic’s values of liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism”.

Villepin said that his movement would be “free, independent and open to all, […] transcending party divides”, in a thinly veiled bid to rally members of the majority UMP party, which is increasingly divided over Sarkozy’s leadership. He implicitly indicated that he would consult potential allies before choosing a name for his new movement and officially “baptising” it on June 19.

Opposition party or UMP ally?

It remains unclear whether Villepin’s “independent political movement” will operate within the orbit of the UMP, as some Villepin supporters have claimed, or whether it will be a fully fledged opposition party.

“Those who say that the new party will just be a gizmo within the UMP aren’t speaking with our best interests in mind”, French diplomat Brigitte Girardin, the president of Villepin’s recently launched political club, told the AFP on Tuesday.

“Our position from the start has been to transcend party lines. Half of our club’s members are moderate liberals or have left-wing sympathies; we don’t only have UMP followers. So if we create a movement within the UMP, we’ll lose a good deal of our supporters,’ she added.

Villepin’s club has attracted a little over 15 000 members since its creation five months ago.

Sarkozy woos Villepin allies

On Monday, Sarkozy named Villepin supporter Georges Tron, an MP from the Essonne region, his new junior minister for the Public Sector during a minor cabinet reshuffle. The move was seen by some Villepin supporters as an attempt to create divisions within the Villepin camp.

Although several centrist MPs regretted Tron’s decision to join the government, saying he will no longer be able to be as freely critical of Sarkozy’s policies has he has been in the past, others have called the move “a welcome gesture towards unity”. Villepin told reporters Thursday that Tron’s decision to join the government was a “personal choice, not my choice”, adding that he “respected Tron’s decision and ” remained his friend”.

Sarkozy and Villepin were once ministerial colleagues under former president Jacques Chirac in the early 2000s, but fell out spectacularly over who would succeed him in 2007. Their bitter political battle culminated in court during the highly politicised Clearstream trial which absolved Villepin from accusations of trying to tarnish Sarkozy’s reputation .

Date created : 2010-03-25


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