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Cablegate: Sarkozy Defies Chirac, Then Retreats -- As

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 005099

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT ALSO FOR DRL/IL, EUR/WE, EUR/ERA, EUR/PPD, INR/EUC AND
EB
DEPT OF LABOR FOR ILAB
DEPT OF COMMERCE FOR ITA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ELAB EU FR PINR SOCI ECON
SUBJECT: SARKOZY DEFIES CHIRAC, THEN RETREATS -- AS
"LIBERAL" VERSUS "STATIST" DIFFERENCES IN CENTER-RIGHT COME
TO THE FORE

REF: A. (A) PARIS 5045

B. (B) PARIS 4954

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED -- HANDLE ACCORDINGLY

SUMMARY
-------
1. (SBU) France's Interior Minister and 2007 presidential
hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has again challenged President
Chirac's credibility as a leader. In highly publicized
remarks on July 14, Sarkozy compared Chirac to King Louis
XVI. (Louis XVI is identified in France with ingnoring the
winds of change sweeping through the country on the eve of
the French revolution.) In a speech a week earlier, Sarkozy
questioned the value of the French social model. On July 19,
Sarkozy -- in his capacity as president of the center-right
Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party -- received Angela
Merkel, head of Germany's center-right Christian Democratic
Union (CDU) (reftel A). Both called for changing the social
model shared by France and Germany. President Chirac's
insistent defense of the French social model contrasts ever
more sharply with Sarkozy's insistence on the need for
deeper, more free-market oriented reform. With tremendous
disarray on the center-left, it is these contending visions
on the center-right that are coming to dominate the French
political scene. END SUMMARY.

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ASSAILING CHIRAC'S LACK OF VISION
---------------------------------
2. (SBU) On Bastille Day, July 14, the Interior Minister
usually hosts a garden party after the traditional Bastille
Day parade. This year, as is most unusual, Sarkozy made a
point of inviting the press. At the event, he delivered a
personal, political manifesto to the assembled guests and
journalists. Sarkozy's "rival" garden party, as the press
billed it, took place at the same time as President Chirac
was conducting the traditional Bastille Day interview during
the Presidential garden party at the Elysee Palace (reftel
B). In his speech at the interior ministry, Sarkozy again
sounded the core themes ever more closely associated with
him: France needs more market-driven opportunity, less state
involvement in the economy, and a political elite connected
to the concerns of ordinary people. Sarkozy compared Chirac
to Louis XVI who "fiddled with the locks at Versailles while
France was rumbling with discontent." Sarkozy's direct, very
public assault on Chirac's credibility as a leader reflects
his impatience with -- indeed, contempt for -- Chirac's lack
of any future-oriented political vision. Sarkozy portrayed
himself as committed to "doing my best" to end "immobilism
and the masking of the facts," and provide "effective
responses to the concerns of ordinary Frenchmen and women."

DEFENDERS OF THE OFFICE TAKE OFFENSE
------------------------------------
3. (SBU) Predictably, a portion of the public felt Sarkozy
had gone too far, insulting the President of the Republic and
the dignity of the office. Chirac's supporters,
specifically, President of the National Assembly Jean-Louis
Debre, played to this current in public opinion by accusing
Sarkozy of "harassing the President." In addition to
mediatizing his garden party, Sarkozy had, a few days before,
harshly questioned the relevance of Chirac,s Bastille Day
interview. ("Why does Chirac perpetuate this tradition?"
Sarkozy reportedly asked. "It's not relevant at the
moment"). Appearing on a public affairs broadcast, Debre in
turn attacked Sarkozy's credibility, asking, "What does the
interior minister want? To be thrown out of the government
and appear as a victim? To show his displeasure at not being
chosen prime minister? To prevent the success of the
(Villepin) government to further his career?" In response,
having successfully reminded the public that he is a
challenger of the establishment and advocate of change,
Sarkozy backed off. A week after Bastille Day, in an
interview with a leading daily, Sarkozy depicted himself as a
team player, committed to supporting the success of the
Villepin government, of which he is the second-ranking member.

COMMENT: SWITCHING BETWEEN COMPLEMENTARY ROLES
--------------------------------------------- -
4. (SBU) Sarkozy's image management is a difficult balancing
act. On the one hand, he needs to keep projecting himself as
a credible leader of change. This requires periodic sallying
forth to excoriate the highly unpopular political class to
maintain his image as an alternative to that class. It also
requires regularly affirming his pro-market, reformist views,
which are considerably more "liberal" (in the Europeans sense
of the term) than those of Chirac and most of the political
elite. On the other hand, in order to reassure doubters
among the public of his steadiness -- his fitness for high
office -- Sarkozy is also intent on performing well in a key
establishment role -- interior minister. Central to
achieving his ambitions is convincing a majority of voters in
2007 that he can responsibly lead France's successful
adaptation to globalization, as Chirac has markedly failed to
do. Interior Ministry issues -- counter-terrorism, safe
streets, immigration, etc. -- are issues that matter to
middle class voters. Credibility in the quintessentially
establishment role of interior minister is every bit as
important to Sarkozy as is his credibility as an
anti-establishment reformer. His message dismissing Chirac
and bluntly questioning France's social model is as carefully
calculated as are his initiatives and image as interior
minister -- for example, his calls for a tougher immigration
regime, and his unfailing, and well publicized, appearances
at the funerals of police and firemen killed in the line of
duty.

COMMENT CONTINUED: CONTENDING VISIONS ON THE CENTER-RIGHT
--------------------------------------------- ------------
5. (SBU) With the center-left Socialist Party (PS) in deep
disarray, the run-up to the 2007 presidential election will
likely see accentuation of contending visions on the
center-right. The outlook of Chirac and Villepin is that the
French social model can be successfully adapted, without
major change in the direction of social and economic policy
and without a significant shift in the role of the state
throughout French society. Sarkozy is challenging that
"neo-Gaullist" approach. He believes that the government, as
led by the political class, is not responding to the needs of
ordinary people. Successful reform then requires
considerable change in the ethos of the political class,
along with considerable change in the direction of social and
economic policy. In Sarkozy's view, without such deeper
change, France's huge and omnipresent bureaucracy will remain
more a hindrance to, than enabler of, economic initiative and
social harmony. End Comment.
STAPLETON

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