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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The French Left Faces a Future Without DelorsHelp for Small Business

Frenchmen of a leftish persuasion have every reason to be exasperated with their leaders. In last year's parliamentary elections, the left crashed to one of its most humiliating defeats in history. Then a series of scandals connected with illegal funding of the Socialist Party began to come to light. Next, President Fran?ois Mitterrand, in his 14th and final year in office, revealed he had been a militant rightist in his youth. It was already known that his record of cooperation with the Vichy puppet regime in World War II was none too honorable.


Finally, Jacques Delors, the most obvious candidate of the left for France's presidential elections next April and May, announced last Sunday he would not run. The left has no personality of similar stature to Delors, the outgoing president of the European Union's executive commission, and it now faces the prospect that the right will capture the presidency in addition to its control of parliament.


On the face of things, Delors' decision was extraordinary. He had carefully prepared the ground for a presidential campaign. Not content with giving lengthy interviews to the French media and arranging for his photograph to be taken in various statesmanlike poses, he had also published a book whose weighty title, "The Unity of a Man," was perhaps not matched by the weight of its intellectual content. Opinion polls consistently showed Delors stood an excellent chance of beating the right's candidate, whether Prime Minister Edouard Balladur or Jacques Chirac, the man Mitterrand defeated in 1981.


It is probable that when Delors said he had decided not to run for personal reasons he was telling the truth. He is 69 and a workaholic, and he is entitled to feel it is time for a rest. He is also a man who, for all the power he accumulated in 10 years as European Commission chief in Brussels, has never actually won election to a major public office. Campaigning for a job does not appeal to him one bit. In private he is said to fear that the left is incapable of winning more than 45 percent of the vote.


One final point concerns the political future of his daughter, Martine Aubry, a leading light in the younger ranks of the socialists. Delors knows his daughter is already perceived as a potential candidate in the presidential race of 2002. If he were to win the presidency next year, he would almost certainly torpedo his daughter's chances. Family dynasties have been out of fashion in France since Napoleon III led his country to an ignominious defeat by Prussia in 1870.


Delors' decision casts considerable uncertainty over the EU's future. The EU's 15 members are gearing up for a major conference in 1996 that could decide whether a federal political union will be formed. France will hold the EU presidency from next January to July and must lay the ground for that conference, but most of the coming six months will be taken up by the domestic French presidential campaign. The candidates in that race will find it hard not to run on themes that stress the pursuit of French national interests in the EU at the expense of federalist visions.


Add that to the continuing political turmoil in Britain and Italy, where the governments seem close to collapse, and you can see that the EU is in danger of being paralyzed at one of the crucial turning points in its history. Delors, the European federalist par excellence, may yet regret his decision not to seek the French presidency.