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Sarkozy party seeks winning strategy for 2012 vote

Nicolas Sarkozy has yet to declare that he will seek re-election in 2012. But at his UMP party's "summer school" in Marseille, party leader Jean-François Copé (pictured) has already called for the president to win another five years in office.


Jean-François Copé, the head of France's ruling conservatives, has urged UMP party members to rally behind efforts to hand President Nicolas Sarkozy another five years in office.

In a keynote speech on Saturday, Copé told a boisterous crowd in Marseille that there was no time to lose in launching the race for next year's presidential election. “I ask you to give every second you can spare to convincing the French that Nicolas Sarkozy's re-election is essential,” Copé said.

“I agree, I think we need to get ready,” said Alexander Cournol, a representative of the UMP youth movement in the United States, who travelled from Washington for the event. Cournol also backed Copé's call for party unity, after the start of the conference saw some UMP leaders go off script and criticise the French president.

Crisis of confidence

The repeated calls to rally behind France's unpopular president are indicative of the difficulties Sarkozy faces as he seeks to secure another mandate. Recent surveys suggest the UMP's champion has recovered some support among conservative voters, but his approval rating among French voters as a whole is still hovering around a low 30%.

The lack of confidence in Sarkozy has spread among some UMP lawmakers, according to Jerome Saint-Marie, director of public opinion studies at the French polling agency CSA. “They have hesitated to affirm their support because they are worried about losing their own seats,” said Saint-Marie. “There are deep-seated doubts among MPs.”

Campaign strategy

“We still have to build the route to victory,” Copé recognised on Saturday as he outlined some of the early points of the party's campaign strategy.

Copé said the party would be touting Sarkozy's record since he took office in 2007, highlighting university and pension reforms as well as France's interventions in Libya and Ivory Coast.

But the dire state of France's economy is likely to take centre-stage.

The UMP has rushed to position itself as a fiscally responsible party, pledging to cut spending in a bid to slash the country's spiralling debt and save its triple-A credit rating.

Party members in Marseille took it in turns to rail against the economic policies of the opposition Socialist Party, which has vowed to raise taxes on high earners in an effort to plug the deficit and sustain public spending.

"The Socialist party is choosing to tax and spend. We are making the choice of the reduction of public spending. We are making the choice of responsibility and credibility," said Bruno Le Maire, the agriculture minister.

Le Maire, who has been tasked with shaping the party's campaign platform, said the UMP's plan for France wouldn't cost "a single extra cent".

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