(This is a longer version of the piece published in CNN).
The French presidential election campaign is taking shape and mainstream centre-right supporters have decided yesterday that their candidate would be chosen between Alain Juppé and François Fillon on the 24th of November. The big upset was Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat and this could mean a reshuffling of priorities on the centre right.
It will be left to the two former prime ministers to navigate the coming week, and to one of them to lead the mainstream right in what is set to be a decisive moment for French politics next year. Fillon’s decisive and surprising victory in the first round could demonstrate that Juppé’s more conciliatory tone has failed. With over 44% of the vote. Fillon may appear to many as a moderate compared to the hyperactive Sarkozy under whom he served as prime minister, but his neoliberal views coupled with a very conservative approach to societal matters, particularly with regard to identity, immigration and Islam, should allow him to tap into the electorate of his defeated opponents. It was a strong sign that Sarkozy announced he would vote for Fillon as he conceded last night.
As France continues to struggle to escape decidedly from the woes of the global economic crisis, with growth failing to reach predictions and unemployment remaining high, much of the coverage of the campaign so far has given prominence to the Front National, fuelling further the sense of identity crisis away form more economic and social issues. It was telling that the BBC chose Marine Le Pen as their main guest on Remembrance Day.