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Key facts about the man who vows to make France 'happy'
All photos: AFP

Key facts about the man who vows to make France 'happy'

The Local · 20 Sep 2016, 17:49

Published: 20 Sep 2016 17:49 GMT+02:00
Updated: 20 Sep 2016 17:49 GMT+02:00

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Alain Juppé is just about on course to become France's next president.
He is favourite to pip long time rival Nicolas Sarkozy to become the presidential candidate for the centre-right Les Republicans party in November's primary, which many are seeing as the real presidential election.
That's because whoever wins is seen as a shoe-in for the top job in May, given how weak François Hollande and the other left wing candidates are. And Marine Le Pen, albeit riding a wave of popularity, is still likely to fall a long way short.
If Juppé is chosen to represent the party, he could become France's oldest president. Here's what you need to know about the potential president's enduring career.
He's been around forever
Ever since he graduated from l'ENA (Ecole Nationale d'Administration), France's elite university, 71-year-old Alain Juppé has devoted his life to politics. He has been a European MP, Prime Minister under former president Jacques Chirac, the deputy mayor of the 18th arrondissement of Paris, and the mayor of Bordeaux for 20 years.
... and he's Bordeaux's superhero
As Bordeaux's long-standing mayor, he's been credited for giving the city a new life where he enjoys widespread popularity. The construction of the tramway network has revamped Bordeaux and asserted its position as one of the most popular destinations for tourists.
He upholds that by having spent so many years in local politics he is "on the scene" and has witnessed the real troubles that affect everyday people's lives.
Juppé by the Wine Civilisations Museum in Bordeaux
He was part of the infamous student riots of May '68
... and voted for the Communist Party. However he radically switched sides when he joined former president Jacques Chirac's conservative party a few years later. He has been a loyal right-wing politician ever since and was president of the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) from 2002 to 2004.
He speaks perfect English
Whilst Hollande has been ridiculed for his almost non-existent level of English, Juppé postitively soars. And unlike many of his colleagues, Juppé doesn't grumble or pull the customary confused face when someone doesn't speak to him in his native langue.
Instead, he has learned the language properly and is one of the few French politicians who can hold confident English conversations.
A man tainted by scandal
It was uncovered that whilst he was deputy-mayor of Paris, Juppé arranged for the rent to be lowered on his son's state-owned flat. Meanwhile, he carried out renovations on his own flat using several million francs of taxpayer's money.
His popularity plummeted even further when in 2004 he received a 18-month suspended sentence for his involvement in a fictitious jobs scandal which shook Chirac's RPR Party.
He was found guilty of wrongdoing in a scam in which Paris City Hall funds were used to pay political party allies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His conviction was for “the use of public office for personal ends.”
... but is now the most popular politician in France
His popularity has since reversed. He was named France's most popular politician by GQ in 2014 and has been at the top of the popularity scale ever since.
The latest surveys show that 63 percent of the population have a favourable opinion of him whilst President Hollande reaches just 27 percent.
He wants to make France happy
Despite being teased by his opponents, who claim that he's too naive or unrealistic, Juppé insists that France can only see through its difficult times if it introduces the idea of a Happy Identity (l'identité heureuse). It's a stance he's taken to counter the idea of National Identity, advocated by other politicians and in particular Nicolas Sarkozy and far-right Marine Le Pen.
Story continues below…
He defends himself: "Of course I can see that France is suffering, but what should I tell the French people? That they're going to suffer even more? My message is a message of hope, and that's what l'identité heureuse is about."
He's on a privatisation frenzy
Whether it's motorways, banks, phone companies or Air France, he has played an important role in privatising industries since Chirac's election. He's especially motivated when the funds can go towards the development of Bordeaux, which has drawn criticism in the past. 
He's daring to scrap the 35-hour work week
Juppé is promising to ditch the current 35-hour weekly work limit to bring it back up to the previous 39 hours. A move that will doubt spark some criticism but that no president has dared to discuss since it came into effect in 2000.
Juppé is also looking at pushing the age for retirement back to 65 instead of the current 62 years. He also promised to significantly reduce public spending, a move that 82 percent of the population supports. 
By James Vasina
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