Good news in Fil­lon?

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - AN­DREAS WHIT­TAM SMITH

I Tis good news for this coun­try that François Fil­lon has suc­ceeded in po­si­tion­ing him­self as the likely can­di­date for the Repub­li­can Party in France’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, due to be held next April. In fact a re­cent poll showed Fil­lon beat­ing the Na­tional Front’s Marine Le Pen, who is sec­ond favourite. He would ob­tain 61% of the votes were the two to meet in a sec­ond and fi­nal round. So Fil­lon will very likely dis­place the hap­less François Hollande from the Elysée in 2017 just when the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions are reach­ing a cru­cial stage.

So Bri­tain should look care­fully at Fil­lon, who on Sun­day de­ci­sively won the first round of the Repub­li­can Party’s pri­mary elec­tions, forc­ing for­mer pres­i­dent Ni­cholas Sarkozy into un­wanted re­tire­ment on the way. And while there are lots of in­ter­est­ing as­pects to Fil­lon’s do­mes­tic pol­icy plans, note first where he stands on Europe.

He be­lieves in a “Europe of Na­tions” that would be “re­spect­ful of the sovereignty of France” – and no doubt of Bri­tain, too. In his pol­icy state­ment, Fil­lon ar­gues that Europe must be a means of achiev­ing cer­tain ends and not a re­li­gion. In par­tic­u­lar he would make the Schen­gen area – 26 European states, not in­clud­ing Bri­tain, that have of­fi­cially abol­ished pass­port con­trol at their mu­tual bor­ders – a “Schen­gen of Jus­tice”, mean­ing that any­one found guilty of a crime any­where in the area would au­to­mat­i­cally be sent back to their own coun­try. With these opin­ions, Fil­lon sounds very much like some­body with whom Theresa May could do busi­ness.

More than that, there are other points of sim­i­lar­ity be­tween the two politi­cians. He rep­re­sents the tra­di­tional right wing of pol­i­tics in France, which is, to quote Le Monde, quite lib­eral, of­ten Catholic and con­cerned with ques­tions of iden­tity. In fact, Fil­lon is as much a tra­di­tional Catholic as May is a tra­di­tional Angli­can.

It is in­ter­est­ing, too, to an­a­lyse why in the opin­ion polling be­fore Sun­day, Alain Juppé sud­denly ap­peared to fall back while Fil­lon forged ahead. The turn­ing point seems to have Juppé’s court­ing of MoDem, a cen­trist po­lit­i­cal party founded by François Bay­rou. It seems that Fil­lon’s sup­port­ers have as lit­tle en­thu­si­asm for cen­tre-ground pol­i­tics as May’s Con­ser­va­tives would have for an­other coali­tion with the Lib Dems.

An­other plus for Fil­lon in May’s es­ti­ma­tion is likely to be that he is an ad­mirer of Mar­garet Thatcher. He showed a Thatcher-like frank­ness in ex­pres­sion and a de­plor­ing of ex­ces­sive debt when, soon af­ter be­com­ing prime min­is­ter in 2007, he told an au­di­ence in Cor­sica that he was at the head of a “bank­rupt state”. His Pres­i­dent, Sarkozy, was not amused.

Now in his plans for his own pres­i­dency, he pro­claims bravely that he would cut 500,000 pub­lic sec­tor jobs in five years. He would also ditch the con­tro­ver­sial 35hour week leg­is­la­tion. Com­pa­nies would be able to ne­go­ti­ate what­ever length of work­ing week they pre­ferred up to a limit of 48 hours.

Fi­nally, there is an up­right way of han­dling them­selves in pri­vate as well as in pub­lic that unites Fil­lon and May. For in­stance, Sarkozy’s nu­mer­ous brushes with the law over party fund­ing have gen­uinely shocked Fil­lon. When he be­gan his cam­paign he ex­claimed: “Can you imag­ine De Gaulle hav­ing to deal with crim­i­nal charges?”

Nor could he be fur­ther from the “bling-bling” for which Sarkozy was fa­mous. No doubt he has sim­i­lar con­cerns about Pres­i­dent Hollande’s com­port­ment in of­fice. As Va­lerie Tri­er­weiller, Hollande’s of­fi­cial part­ner liv­ing at Elysée, asked when she dis­cov­ered he was play­ing loose: “Where is the ex­em­plary pres­i­dent? A pres­i­dent does not con­duct two wars and at the same time dash off to meet an ac­tress in a side street when the op­por­tu­nity presents it­self.”

Nonethe­less, there is one big dif­fer­ence be­tween Fil­lon and May that may sur­prise – their at­ti­tude to Pres­i­dent Putin. Fil­lon seems to take Pres­i­dent-elect Trump’s line. Fil­lon and Vladimir Putin have met nu­mer­ous times since 2012. Fil­lon thinks it wrong to make Russia the sole cause of trou­ble in Ukraine. And he would like to see a coali­tion be­tween Russia and Iran to de­feat IS in Syria.

Would that mean hav­ing to ally France with the Syr­ian pres­i­dent, Bashar Al-As­sad? Yes, if nec­es­sary. That is a dif­fer­ence with Bri­tain’s pol­icy. Nonethe­less, Theresa May could well think, bring on Fil­lon. – The In­de­pen­dent

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