French conservatives have gathered in Marseille for their annual “Summer School” conference, hoping to paper over the cracks in the party and rally support around President Nicolas Sarkozy's re-election bid.
Gathered in the southern city of Marseille from September 2 to 4, UMP party leaders, lawmakers and rank-and-file members are calling on supporters to rally around French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he campaigns for a second term.
The traditional “Summer School” gathering offers party members a chance to show a united front and mold political consensus. This year, it will be key in jump-starting the UMP's drive to stay in power for another term. The two-round presidential election is scheduled for April 22 and May 6 of next year.
Party leaders, including UMP chief Jean-François Copé and Prime Minister François Fillon, are expected to drum up support for Sarkozy in keynote speeches over the weekend. Copé will also unveil the results of a vast survey of former and current party members, who were asked what issues were most important to them ahead of the race.
But despite the upbeat talk, party members will be well aware that their champion faces an uphill battle in next year's presidential poll. Sarkozy's government has been plagued by scandals and his approval ratings have tanked.
Divisions within the party have flared up, with at least one prominent member, former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, quitting the UMP camp last April. Borloo, a centrist, has threatened to run against Sarkozy in the forthcoming poll.
Even at the conference, carefully groomed for the media, the ruling party struggled to present a unified front. On Friday Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former prime minister and UMP heavyweight, criticized Sarkozy's move to raise taxes on amusement parks, calling it an attack on the poor.
On Saturday, he sought to make amends. “We need to unite as a party,” he told a crowd at a plenary session. “We need to unite because we have the best candidate”.
He and his colleagues may find it easier to achieve the much desired unity when they indulge in another favourite pastime of these summer gatherings: railing against the opposition Socialist Party, who have also struggled to overcome their own divisions.
Day one of the UMP's 'summer school'
UMP leaders and rank-and-file members gather in the southern city of Marseille between Sept. 2 and 4 for their annual “Summer School” conference. © photo credit: Joseph Bamat
A party member is greeted with flyers as he arrives at the conference. The UMP is expecting some 6,000 participants during the three-day event. © photo credit: Joseph Bamat
This year the focus of the conference is to rally support for President Nicolas Sarkozy's re-election bid. © Photo credit: Joseph Bamat
The party's youth wing is generally relied on to come up with the event's animations. © Photo credit: Joseph Bamat
While Sarkozy's re-election bid is the priority this year, the conference is very much UMP party chief Jean-François Copé's time to shine. © Photo credit: Joseph Bamat
UMP chief Jean-François Copé speaks to journalists before the start of the conference on Saturday. © Photo credit: Joseph Bamat
Former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin set off a mini controversy Friday by criticizing one of Sarkozy's measures. Reporters swarmed around Raffarin when he arrived for the conference on Saturday. © Photo credit: Joseph Bamat
Date created : 2011-09-03