Any self-respecting electorate in an EU member-state prefers a presidential to a European parliamentary. In France, enthusiasm and interest were at fever pitch. The challenger to the incumbent looked impressive. According to Le Figaro, he was a winner with younger voters, and an instinctive liberal in ways that matter – an aerosol solution to the fug in the country’s political institutions and the clammy hold of the Republic on the lives of its citizens. His wife was said to be ‘a star’ in the political firmament.
If the French had been eligible to vote in Iran, they’d have turned out in force for Hossein Mousavi and his non-singing, non-dancing not Carla Bruni. And they’d have wanted to be on the streets of Tehran denouncing the rigged results. Their passion for the Iranian contest has offered a welcome distraction after last week’s European parliamentaries, which failed to inspire them. Nonetheless the 40 per cent turn-out could have been worse, even if it attests to the steady decline – nearly one-third – since the first European parliamentaries thirty years ago, when the president’s party made the running, as it did again this time around. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was the man of the moment in 1979 and later the architect of the European Constitution roundly reviled by the French in the 2005 referendum.
The greens have done well and the socialists badly: the Europe Ecologie alliance and the PS garnered an equal share of the vote and each won 14 of the 72 assembly seats in the Brussels allocation. The collapse of the PS does Sarkozy and the UMP no harm, and for the moment the rise of environmentalism is manageable; its advocates – José Bové at one end and the green-show TV presenter Nicholas Hulot at the other – appeal to a cross-section of French society, but the unwieldy engine of green ‘feeling’, a coalition of activism and anxiety, needs to undergo further trials in the wind tunnels of party politics before it can make trouble for Sarkozy’s majority. The UMP is good at meaning quite a lot of things and all it has to do for now is act like it means green, while pointing quietly to the money that people will need to part with if the green game ever really comes to town. Handy therefore, as parliament prepares for the summer recess in July, to release a post-election white paper on carbon taxes. Starting in 2011? Could be. Affecting most households and businesses in France? Quite possibly. Bonnes vacances.