He’s now the most wanted man in Paris: François Bayrou, 55, leader of the UDF center-right political party, and “third man” of the French election. He hasn’t qualified for the second round, but will play a decisive role in giving -- or not -- his support to one of the remaining candidates. Ségolène Royal (left) and Nicolas Sarkozy (right) are both eyeing at Bayou’s 6.7 million voters with a great interest, but obviously, it’s more crucial for one of them.
Nicolas Sarkozy can afford a status quo. He’s leading the race, still has some “reserve” among the extreme right supporters, and should drag most of Bayrou’s voters if no official recommendation is made to them. At this stage, Sarkozy is the most likely to win the election.
Ségolène Royal, the socialist runner, doesn’t really have the choice. Despite the support of almost all the left-wing candidates, she doesn't have enough vote to beat Sarkozy at the second round of the election. The only way she can be the first French woman president, is to seal an alliance with the center-right leader. She made the first step, proposing him a public debate which could lead to a common set of proposals.
François Bayrou knows he can afford to be picky, and hasn’t replied yet to Ségolène Royal. Of course, he could secure a couple of key portfolios in the next government, even the job of Prime Minister, in exchange of his precious support. But Bayrou has more ambition. He’s already preparing the 2012 presidential race, and some sources say that he won’t make any recommendation for this election.
All of this would make sense, if the French people were not to vote again in June, to choose their deputies. Unless he wants to fight the socialists and the Sarkozysts at the same time, and therefore take the risk of losing a large number of seats at the national assembly, François Bayrou cannot remain independent.
While centrists are claiming that their leader is “not for sale”, very few people are actually wondering if Bayrou would be compatible with one the remaining candidates. Could Royal or Sarkozy merge their program with the centrists? Bayrou is said to be very pro-European, more market-orientated than Royal, but less interventionist than Sarkozy. He wants -- like Sarkozy -- to reform the pensions and the labor market, and he’s also calling -- like Royal -- for a deep reform of the French institutions. And he’s got the cheapest set of proposals: The cost of his program is estimated at 26 billion euros, compared to 57 billion for Sarkozy, and 63 billion for Royal.
The suspense will not last for a very long time, anyway. François Bayrou has called for press conference on Wednesday, to give his recommendation. In case he does not team up with Royal, ite misa est. Sarkozy’s the winner.