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France

Eye on France: Juppé jumps ship in Bordeaux

media Alain Juppé who won't, now, be standing for the ruling party in the forthcoming European elections. NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

Alain Juppé is back on the French front pages. The former prime minister, former can-carrier for Jacques Chirac at the Paris City Hall, former potential right-wing presidential candidate and now, former mayor of the city of Bordeaux is on his way to the French Constitutional Council.

The news has surprised a lot of people, especially in Bordeaux.

Juppé is almost universally admired in the south-western city where he was first elected in 1995. He is credited with having lead “an extraordinary evolution”, with turning the city into a beautiful place.

But that takes energy, and our man Alain, born in 1945, is getting on. He’s 73.

Which is not to suggest that the folk on the Constitutional Council get to doze in their armchairs all afternoon.

The members of the council are frequently called “les sages” in French, meaning “the wise ones”. Nine of them are judges. All former presidents are entitled to join, but normally don’t until they’ve given up any active political role.

The rest are nominated by the current president and by the leaders of the National Assembly and the Senate. They tend to be on the old side.

Keeping the lawmakers this side of the law

Their job is to make sure that laws passed by the two legislative bodies, the Assembly and Senate, do not contravene the French constitution. They also keep an eye on the way elections and referendums are run.

Some younger residents of Bordeaux are happy that his departure will bring some new blood to the city administration, but also surprised that Juppé, who was convicted of illegally manipulating official funds, can now find himself sitting in the highest constitutional authority in the republic. Libération interviews a Bordeaux shopkeeper who says, simply, “Some things never change.”

Other locals question Juppé’s handling of the Yellow Vest protest movement, suggesting that he was too soft.

Some commentators think that the very improvements the man made in Bordeaux could have been his downfall, since the newly-attractive city is now closer to Paris, thanks to the high-speed train line. And that means that property prices have started to reach Paris levels. Which is bad news for the residents.

In his own words

The man himself says the explanation for his departure from politics is very simple: he no longer gets a buzz from the business. When he was offered the council job, which came as a complete surprise to him too, he took just 24 hours to decide.

Two elements helped him in his choice, he says. One was the fear of taking the fatal political step too far. He wants to quit while he’s ahead. And the other decisive factor was the feeling that the Bordeaux mayor’s office could do with some new faces.

On a personal level, he says he’s had a lifetime of political struggle but feels that the current climate of violence in which serious politicians are physically and verbally attacked, denigrated as a rotten élite, made the victims of stupid hatred carried on social media has made the job even more difficult.

He says he’ll leave Bordeaux with a heavy heart.

And, speaking of political violence

President Emmanuel Macron has been getting it in the neck in the wake of Juppé’s nomination to the Constitutional Court. The French leader is accused of an outdated approach to top nominations, far from the new style of politics which he promised before his election.

In fact, says Le Monde, Macron really has no choice since his own Republic on the Move party is too young to have produced the sort of heavy-calibre dudes needed for the top jobs. So he has to turn to the famous names of an older generation.

It’s an explanation of sorts. Make of it what you will.

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