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As its leaders fight, France's conservative party suffers

Experts say that infighting within the conservative UMP, which was ousted from the presidency in May, could undermine its standing with the French public even further.

By Correspondent / November 30, 2012

An empty podium is seen at the headquarters of the UMP political party in Paris before a news conference Thursday. For the past 12 days, the UMP has been riven by a leadership crisis that is likely to harm the party's future political prospects.

Benoit Tessier/Reuters



The crisis plaguing France's right-wing opposition UMP party seems nowhere near over, after several attempts in the last few days at mediation between the two men vying for UMP leadership failed. But even as the negotiations between Jean-François Copé and François Fillon go back to square one, analysts and politicians agree on one thing: It is clear that the UMP will not come out of this unscathed.

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Mr. Copé and Mr. Fillon are fighting to succeed former French President Nicolas Sarkozy as leader of the right wing. The UMP, France's main right-wing party, held an internal election on Nov. 18 that both men claim they won. But no resolution appears to be in sight, despite efforts by Mr. Sarkozy, former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, and various UMP lawmakers to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Copé, who was declared the winner of the election by two commissions of the UMP, on Wednesday ruled out a plan for holding a referendum asking the party base whether it wants to vote anew for a party president after a disputed election. Copé had floated the proposal on Tuesday on the condition that Fillon give up on his project of creating a separate right-wing opposition group in the lower chamber of parliament. But after Fillon went ahead with his parliamentary group, Copé withdrew his support for a referendum.

Sarkozy has threatened Fillon and Copé to publicly say that both are unfit for running a major political party if they fail to end the gridlock by Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported Friday, citing anonymous sources within the UMP.

With the stalemate still in place, the UMP looks set to suffer politically, at least in the short term.

Benoist Apparu, a UMP lawmaker in the French National Assembly and a junior minister during Sarkozy’s tenure, says the future looks grim for the UMP, although it doesn’t mean a right-wing candidate couldn’t win the next presidential election in 2017.

“Does it jeopardize 2017? I think it’s going to be very complicated but I wouldn’t go that far," Mr. Apparu says. But "we will have a hard time getting back on our feet before 2014," when the next local elections occur, he adds.

Polls show the UMP infighting has had a devastating impact on the image of both Copé and Fillon among the public.

A Nov. 23 survey by the polling group BVA Opinion found the popularity of Copé had plunged by 22 percentage points since early November while Fillon’s decreased by 11 percentage points. BVA Opinion found Copé was popular among 26 percent of those surveyed, down from 48 percent in early November, while Fillon was popular among 52 percent of those surveyed, down from 63 percent.

Céline Bracq, the associate director of BVA Opinion, says the decrease in Copé’s popularity is “huge” while that of Fillon is “fairly spectacular,” adding that the image of the two men could continue to worsen as the crisis drags on.


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