Christine Ockrent

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Recuerdo vívidamente la primera aparición televisiva de la candidata presidencial francesa Marine Le Pen. Fue apenas antes de la campaña presidencial de 2002 y yo tenía que moderar un debate en la televisión pública francesa. Para un equilibrio político, necesitábamos un representante del Frente Nacional (FN) de extrema derecha, por entonces encabezado por el padre de Le Pen, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Bruno Gollnisch, director de la campaña de Jean-Marie y su aparente heredero, rechazó nuestra invitación y ofreció, en cambio, enviar a Marine.

Fue obviamente una treta que Gollnisch le jugó no sólo a un medio considerado hostil, sino también a la propia Le Pen -una rival con la que se sentía molesto porque, en su opinión, había sido indebidamente promovida por su padre en el aparato del FN-.…  Seguir leyendo »

He surged from the abyss of opinion polls and in four weeks managed to eradicate two rivals whose ambitions had dominated the past 30 years of French conservative politics. François Fillon , who won the presidential primary election for the Republicans party on Sunday, is now the uncontested leader of the center-right in France. But in proclaiming that he has gone from “Mr. Nobody” to the next president, Fillon’s new sycophants are a bit too quick to jump to conclusions.

Although French campaigns are much shorter than the exhausting American ones, the presidential election will not take place for another five months.…  Seguir leyendo »

A few days ago, as the United States and the rest of world were still trying to grasp the full meaning of Donald Trump’s victory, one French politician rushed to the media, glowing with self-confidence: Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right movement, wanted the world to know she was actually the real winner of the Oval Office.

“The people are free! It is not the end of the world, it is the end of a world!”, she said.  To Le Pen, who very early claimed her support for the Republican candidate, America’s political earthquake has cleared her path to the Elysée Palace.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman in a burkini walks on a beach in Marseille, France, on Aug. 27, the day after the country's highest administrative court suspended a ban on full-body burkini swimsuits. (Stringer/Reuters)

French exceptionalism is under fire. While the United States sees itself as the Earth’s last, best hope, leading the world for the better, France has long viewed itself as the world’s beacon of enlightenment, illuminating the planet with the sheer power of its conceptual and literary achievements. The irony is that the country which also gave the world Brigitte Bardot and the Vichy-checkered bikini is now fuming over the burkini issue. Our particular vision of secularism is under strain, and it is a source of misunderstanding among those who wonder how the motherland of human rights has become so oppressive.

Stringent secularism, supported to this day by a vast majority of French, stems from the bloody fight at the beginning of the 20th century between the government and the Catholic Church, which eventually lost control over the political, social and educational systems.…  Seguir leyendo »

For the past six months the French have been trying to figure out who, in François Hollande, they have elected to the Elysée. "Is there really a president?" asks the news magazine L'Express this week. We may find an answer on Tuesday, when the president holds his first press conference since taking office.

Hollande's performance so far has not always been convincing. Previously the leader of the Socialist party for 11 years, with no government experience, he has behaved as if he is still more interested in balancing sensitivities within his own majority party – even though he enjoys full political control of the parliament and most of the regions for the duration of his five-year mandate.…  Seguir leyendo »

It may be an effect of belated spring sunshine, but there are reasons to feel optimistic about Europe again. Whatever the short-term reactions of the markets, there is a fact about the European Union that some experts seem to forget each time there is a crisis: the EU is a political process, not a financial transaction or a business takeover.

In the course of the past 50 years, how many fatal predictions have been proved wrong? How many frog-leaps – forwards, backwards and sideways – have avoided collective dead ends? Frogs are not only and necessarily French. The informal dinner in Brussels on Wednesday showed that many European leaders are now convinced a political compromise has to be found to stimulate growth and save Greece, the eurozone and, indeed, the whole single market, so crucial to our economies.…  Seguir leyendo »

For weeks the French presidential campaign looked rather dull, predictable and parochial. It still is parochial – except when vilifying globilisation, no candidate seems to be aware that the outside world exists, not even Europe and its economic woes. But the outcome no longer seems so predictable: less than three weeks away from the first round of the election, Nicolas Sarkozy is ahead in the polls and the Socialist candidate François Hollande has had to face unexpected threats.

At the beginning it looked simple enough. A clear winner of his party's primaries, Hollande just had to surf the massive wave of resentment against President Sarkozy rising from across the spectrum of French public opinion.…  Seguir leyendo »

Paradoxically, the only country in the EU where the political debate is regularly stirred up by European issues is the UK. France prides itself, with good reason, on being the founding mother of European integration. And yet, when it comes to an election as crucial as the presidential one, the two main candidates have tended to behave as if the topic is taboo.

The signing of the stability pact by 25 heads of state and government in Brussels; the insistence on austerity of Germany's Angela Merkel, challenged by Italy's Mario Monti and 11 other European leaders calling for growth; the enduring plight of Greece and Spain … day after day, the morning headlines tell us how vital these issues have become, and every evening French newscasts show President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger, François Hollande, campaigning as if France were alone.…  Seguir leyendo »

It was Nicolas Sarkozy himself who, last summer, started turning the triple-A credit rating, a rather technical notion until then, into a major political issue. And so last week, after France was officially downgraded by the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, the president slipped two points in the polls. Although the other two rating agencies, Moody's and Fitch, have maintained their highest marks for the country, and the financial markets have hardly reacted to the news, the political blow is obvious.

When asked by the press in Madrid whether the role of France was weakened as a result, Sarkozy declined to answer.…  Seguir leyendo »

The French are in love with words.

Written words, spoken words, words to sing or to scream or to declaim. Their elite schools train them to believe that once they forge an elegant formula, the problem they have to confront is already half solved.

Nowhere does it show better than in politics. Take François Hollande, the Socialist challenger to Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election in April.

While the president has not officially declared his candidacy and is using his remaining time in office to try to convince his countrymen that he alone can protect them from the current economic crisis, Hollande has started campaigning for good.…  Seguir leyendo »

Heading into yet another E.U. summit meeting to try to bring an end to the euro-zone crisis, the German chancellor and the French president — “Merkozy” — have been doing their best to keep their act together. Only this Monday in Paris, the leaders of the Continent’s two strongest economies came up with an agreement over a broad, prescriptive plan that they will put to other E.U. members in Brussels.

The plan calls for more fiscal discipline, changes to the existing European treaties to include common oversight over national budgets, and sanctions against overspending countries. Without going into technicalities or measuring the concessions each made to the other, it is clear that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy share the same political goal: They want to prove that the Franco-German couple performs harmoniously and remains the engine of European integration like never before.…  Seguir leyendo »

En general, las disputas internas del Partido Socialista francés provocan bostezos de aburrimiento. Peleas entre egos -siempre los mismos-, palabrería constante y, sobre todo, la penosa sensación de que sus dirigentes no han atravesado una frontera desde el siglo pasado. Pero, de repente, justo cuando la derecha muestra abiertamente sus dudas sobre las posibilidades de Nicolas Sarkozy de salir reelegido en la primavera de 2012, resulta que el PS ha conseguido modernizar nuestra vida política. Algo de lo que se siente no poco orgulloso y de lo que cada uno de los aspirantes a la candidatura proclama ser el padre (o la madre): por primera vez, el candidato que defienda sus colores en las elecciones presidenciales, será designado por votación popular.…  Seguir leyendo »

We Europeans keep forgetting about our common culture: It is in Greece that the tragic hero was invented. Alas, heroes are nowhere to be found these days, but there’s tragedy aplenty: the euro zone adrift, markets astray, people shouting their despair in the streets, Europeans and Americans blaming one another for their common lack of resolve in the face of the financial crisis.

So perhaps a more relevant Hellenic invention is catharsis, a purification that only powerful drama can produce. Let’s hope it can still work.

The unfolding drama in Europe is not so much about the euro as it is about governance.…  Seguir leyendo »

Once upon a time, Europe was the most audacious idea politicians had come to forge and put in practice. In less than 50 years — hardly a beat by historical standards — the European Union became the richest, most numerous democratic area in the world. The process was not easy, and harmony would seldom prevail. There were fights, compromises, night-long bickering and negotiating, face-saving options, theatrical gestures (few heads of state could bang a handbag like Margaret Thatcher), but, on the whole, Europe would go forward.

First came a generation of visionaries, men who had survived wars and were so convinced their goal was right that they saw no need in explaining it to their people.…  Seguir leyendo »

Let’s face it: These summit meetings are a bore. Exhausted leaders have to travel halfway around the world at taxpayers’ expense just to pose for the statutory picture with strained smiles and too few women. They sign a declaration of good intentions, the wording of which has been disputed for days by their Sherpas before the actual gathering. They have an ambitious agenda that is immediately forgotten.

The same questions keep being asked: Is the meeting of the wealthiest an insult to the poor? Is Russia truly a Western democracy? Is the Group of 8 still relevant or should it be scratched to give way to the G-20 — a more appropriate representation of today’s world powers?…  Seguir leyendo »