Wednesday marks the beginning of France’s political calendar year; one that may present serious challenges for President Nicolas Sarkozy, who faces growing dissent from within his own ranks.
The French government’s first ministers' meeting after the summer recess was held on Wednesday, marking the beginning of what could be President Nicolas Sarkozy’s most challenging period since he took office.
Earlier this month the French government began deporting hundreds of Roma and Gypsies to Bulgaria and Romania, offering them 300 euros as an incentive to leave on a voluntary basis.
This expulsion strategy followed two controversial policy proposals. One is to strip French citizens of foreign-birth of their nationality in some criminal cases; the second, to imprison the parents of juvenile offenders.
On Tuesday, former prime minister Dominique de Villepin told French radio RTL that most of the government’s appointed ministers were “unhappy and uncomfortable” with Sarkozy’s national security strategy.
After opposition parties and human rights groups condemned this security drive, the international press, the European Commission, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the UN and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church have joined the chorus criticising the policies.
Adrift to the right
But besides de Villepin, who enjoys a running feud with Sarkozy, and the groups listed above, the ranks of dissenting voices now include former Sarkozy allies Christine Boutin, Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Rachida Dati – the latter two members of Sarkozy’s UMP party.
On RMC radio, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, also a former prime minister and UMP senator, called attention to “a drift to the right that needs correcting” and the “ridiculous [security policy] ideas” Sarkozy’s government has floated.
Boutin, who was relieved of her post as junior minister of housing and urban development in 2009, has told journalists that there was a real "rift" between her Christian Democratic Party and the UMP, which have previously worked closely together.
Other less-known UMP politicians are making ever-bolder statements against the security policies of their party boss. They include lawmakers Etienne Pinte of the Yvelines department, Yannick Favennec and Marc Bernier of the Mayenne department, and senator Philippe Dallier of Seine Saint Denis.
Not just security
Other UMP heavyweights, such as Prime Minister Francois Fillon and lawmaker Jean-Francois Cope, the party leader at the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, have chosen to remain silent on the contentious issue during the summer break.
In September, however, the UMP will have to find a unified voice, not just on the issue of security, but on a host of hard-sell projects including pension reform, a ban on wearing the full Islamic veil in public, and slashing billions of euros worth of tax rebates.
And if Sarkozy does not have enough on his plate, the unions are already preparing a major day of strikes on September 7 to protest against Labour Minister Eric Woerth’s unpopular bid to extend the retirement age for French workers.