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France: Sarkozy's party battles to save itself

Associated Press Modified: November 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm •  Published: November 25, 2012

Cope and Fillon want to lead opposition to Socialist President Francois Hollande — and run for president themselves in 2017. Since Sarkozy lost elections in May in a wave of anti-austerity sentiment in May, France's presidency, parliament and most regional governments have all been under Socialist control.

The UMP fiasco has worried officials beyond France's borders as well. Sweden's ambassador, Gunnar Lund, tweeted, "I'm trying to explain to my government what's happening at the heart of the UMP. Not easy!"

In the European Union, Hollande's Socialists have pushed against public spending cuts for indebted countries that use the shared euro currency, and battled Britain over cutbacks in the EU budget.

A UMP collapse would benefit the Socialists in the short term. But some French commentators have expressed concern that the Socialists — who long suffered their own divisions and who still lack cohesion — need a robust opposition to focus their energies at a time when they need to be making tough decisions. Hollande's popularity is weak six months into his term, as the economy struggles and one in 10 workers is looking for a job.

Meanwhile, France's far right National Front is hoping to capitalize on the UMP's troubles and bring in new support from the more hard-right members of the conservative party. And a new centrist party, UDI, says it has already reaped benefits, winning new members over the past week amid increasing disillusion with the UMP.

All this means nostalgia for the charismatic but divisive Sarkozy is on the rise, with many conservatives hoping he returns to politics. In a sign of how low things have sunk in French politics, support for Sarkozy resurfaced even as he was named special witness in an investigation involving alleged illegal campaign cash that could see him face charges.

As the UMP's troubles dominated French media, the Europe-1 radio website published a guide Sunday for parents trying to explain it to their kids. One bit of advice: how to answer if your child asks, "Is the UMP a mafia?"