PARIS – Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade France’s credit rating just
five months after the credit analysis bureau did the same to the United States
has thrown France’s presidential election campaign into disarray and brought the
race into international headlines.
The current S&P decision is harming incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy's
chances of re-election, despite the earlier improvement in his position,
following Dominique Strauss-Kahn's difficulties. But the current S&P decision could spell trouble for
incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, and is certain to bring the case of Dominique
Strauss-Kahn back to the headlines.
Strauss-Kahn’s thunderbolt fall from
grace was the most gripping story in French politics in 2011 by far. He
was the most popular male politician in France, despite living in the USA.
(Simone Weil, the distinguished former president of the European Parliament was
more popular, but she is not running for office, perhaps understandably – she’s
DSK was so popular among the French Left that many expected him to win a
resounding victory in the Socialist primaries in the race to become their
France, like most of the Western world, is in dire financial
straits, and undergoing a period of “austerité.” It was argued by many
that this professor of economics, former finance minister and successful IMF
managing director was the Frenchman with the best credentials to steer her
Now, even though criminal proceedings against him are over
in New York, his chances of ever becoming French president are as great as The
Hunchback of Notre Dame’s. But does he have any political future at all? And
what does his recent debacle mean for Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election prospects?
AT THE time of his indictment, many French men sympathized with Strauss-Kahn.
Lovers of conspiracy theories claimed and continue to believe that DSK’s
political enemies set him up. Others were angered by the barbaric “perp walk”
forced on him at the beginning, in front of the world’s media.
felt humiliated by the humiliation of their own IMF boss, especially when meted
out by Americans, and blamed them, rather than him.
The French name for
the IMF is FMI (Fonds Monétaire International.) Macho males joked that DSK
thought that FMI stood for “Femmes de Ménage Incluse” (chamber maids included).
He has since returned to the IMF with his wife, apologized and was received with
Most folk, however, were saddened or outraged by the
whole sordid affair. Former Communist leader Marie-George Buffet has called his
release from charges “bad news for women.”
His political friends,
however, rushed to his defense. Madame Édith Cresson, once prime
minister, even claimed that the allegations made against him were totally out of
character for DSK, although a French journalist, Tristane Banon, has complained
to the police about his conduct toward her, and compared him to a “rutting
On his return from New York to France this summer, strange
as it seems to advocates of women’s rights and to we more puritan Anglo-Saxons,
many Socialists still supported him. The French are more easy-going about what
some see as private peccadilloes.
It may be that France’s views have
hardened towards alpha males taking advantage of women as a result of DSK’s
exposure. But in the summer some French Socialists were still calling for DSK to
have a role in French politics. Some even suggested that he would be a suitable
future finance minister.
Others, however, recoiled at his lavish
lifestyle and his wife’s wealth: elegantly furnished apartments in five cities,
$600 dinner with truffles at Madonna’s favourite New York restaurant, $100
steaks delivered to his door during investigations of rape, $3,000 per night
suite in the Sofitel (service included.)
Grand gourmet conspicuous consumption
sticks in their throats. Former Socialist premier Michel Rocard stated DSK has a
mental problem, in not being able to control his impulses. And the civil
proceedings in New York continued to embarrass him.
Today, DSK has no
chance of ever achieving high political office, barring a miracle. He is too
discredited, as a result of yet further allegations regarding his
Where does all this leave Nicolas Sarkozy’s
chances for re-election? With consummate sagacity, Sarkozy refused to condemn
DSK publicly. After all, he backed DSK for the IMF post. Monsieur Sarkozy,
instead, stayed above the fray. As befits a president.
His success in
leading NATO’s ousting of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has enhanced his
international reputation. His much-loved wife, Carla Bruni, delivered their
first child, and this enhanced his status as a family man (especially compared
to DSK.) As for the economy, he is prudently raising taxes on the rich, thereby
winning support from other quarters, and is making cuts, to reduce the national
These moves were originally welcomed. Indeed, this summer the
president’s approval ratings surged, from an all-time low, and the Left was
thrown into disarray by its prodigal son Dominique’s débâcle. How the mighty
have fallen, and the fallen risen.
However, since October, when François
Hollande became the official Socialist presidential candidate, Sarkozy has
trailed in opinion polls, in some by a considerable margin. France’s credit
downgrading is doing Sarkozy more harm. Nonetheless, there is no more skilled
political operator in France than the current president, and he has previously
shown great skill in wooing support, when necessary. The race for the 2012
presidency is wide open.The writer is an international lawyer and a
frequent commentator on French affairs.