If François Hollande is not exactly rubbing his hands with glee, he will feel a little early Christmas cheer at least. Marine Le Pen will also be grateful for the early seasonal gift.
Their old adversary Nicolas Sarkozy returned to frontline French politics on Saturday night when he was elected president of the UMP, but his comeback is unlikely to have either the ever-unpopular Hollande or the increasingly influential Marine Le Pen too concerned.
As one Socialist Party source put it: “Hollande has been fighting the ring alone for two years. Now at least there is someone else to trade punches with.”
Although Sarko’s popularity ratings never tumbled as low as Hollande’s thanks to the fact that his core support on the centre-right remained behind him, he was still a very unpopular French president.
And his personal popularity, which cost him victory in 2012, has failed to grow since he’s been out of the limelight.
“The Sarkozy brand remains toxic. He’s got very little support outside the UMP,” French politics professor Philippe Marliere from London’s UCL told The Local. “Even within the UMP it’s declining because he’s made so many enemies.”
The result of the UMP election, which gave Sarkozy 64.5 percent of the vote ahead of his nearest rival Bruno Le Maire, who garnered 29.1 percent, looked on the face of it a convincing win for Sarkozy, but Marliere says it was anything but.
“If you take into account that only 68.1 percent of UMP members voted and only 64.5 percent voted for Sarkozy, it hardly represents the great comeback of the saviour of the party, let alone the country,” he said.
“It doesn’t look like the operation worked. Sarkozy failed to revitalize and re-energize the French opposition,” Marliere added.
Socialist party chiefs were all pushing the same line on Monday.
Jean-Christophe Cambadélis said the result of the election was “bad news for France, but good news for the left”.
“The time of ‘everyone against the left’ is over,” Cambadélis added. “Now it’s the time to choose, policies against policies.”
Socialist Party Secretary of State Thierry Mandon said Sarkozy was “elected by little more than half of the party members, so hardly the supreme saviour that he’s pretending to be”.
While Socialist Party insiders talk of Hollande “getting his smile” back since his old enemy Sarkozy returned to the spotlight, the biggest winner could well be Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen, who was re-elected as National Front party chief at the weekend, would love nothing more than to run against Sarkozy and Hollande in the 2017 presidential election.
This is the scenario that would give her the best chance of making it through to the second round run-off vote.
Several polls already suggest she would make it to the second round if François Hollande stands for election.
The boost Sarkozy’s return will bring the beleaguered president may just persuade him to do just that.