Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) and New Centre (NC)/Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI)

Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) and New Centre (NC)/Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI). The French right has long seen the rise and fall of various different parties. Usually these parties have been based around predominant personalities on the right. Charles de Gaulle had his Rally of the French People and then his Union of Democrats for the Republic. Valery Giscard d’Estaing had the Union for French Democracy and Jacques Chirac had the Rally for the Republic.

For much of the 1970s, 80s and 90s the French right was divided between two parties. The Rally for the Republic (RPR) and the Union for French Democracy (UDF).

Jacques Chirac’s Rally for the Republic was a Gaullist party and his personal electoral machine. Gaullism refers to the ideological thought of Charles de Gaulle, and is often said to be an intellectual descendant of Bonapartism, the ideology of supporters of Napoleon Bonaparte. Gaullism is a form of French conservatism which supports a strong, centralised French state headed by a strongman leader. It is socially conservative and nationalist, and supports a vibrantly independent French foreign policy. Under de Gaulle, France became a nuclear power and withdrew from NATO’s integrated military command as he refused to have foreign troops command French troops on French soil. De Gaulle was more Eurosceptic than prior or subsequent French leaders and was principally interested in the EEC in terms of how it could be used as a tool to strengthen France.  On economics Gaullism is perhaps best described as economically nationalist, supporting interventionist economic policies and protectionism. In reality Chirac moved around the spectrum during his 30 years at the top of French politics. Originally quite Eurosceptic, denouncing the pro-European UDF as the ‘party of foreigners’ in his famous Call of Cochin, Chirac became pro-European in later years. Similarly Chirac adopted both interventionist and laissez faire approaches to economics. For this reason Chirac was sometimes described as a neo-Gaullist.

The UDF on the other hand, founded by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing was an alliance of small political parties of the centre and centre-right, including liberal, Christian democratic, centrist and social democratic forces. The party’s diverse ideologies led it to be described as the party of everyone on the centre-right who was neither a Gaullist nor far-right but broadly the party can be said to have been both more socially and economically liberal than the RPR. The party had a somewhat reformist bent, and Giscard received significant support from the left in his first Presidential run. The party was also notable for its European federalism; Giscard would later be one of the drafters of the ill-fated European Constitution.

After lengthy cooperation between the two parties, Jacques Chirac moved to merge the two parties into a new personal machine, the Union for a Popular Majority, a vast, catch-all party of the centre-right. A small rump UDF remained, but in the main Chirac succeeded in his goal of achieving broader unity on the centre-right. The UMP was only to be ‘his’ party for 2 years, however, as Nicholas Sarkozy became leader in 2004. Sarkozy was Chirac’s former protégé turned nemesis after he backed Chirac’s opponent Edouard Balladur for French President in 1995. The party was quickly re-orientated into being Sarkozy’s personal electoral machine for the2007 Presidential election. Chirac toyed with the idea of a third term, or with running his PM, Dominique de Villepin against Sarkozy, but eventually abandoned these ideas as Sarkozy was so popular.

Sarkozy behaved in his 2007 campaign as the leader of a new political movement, successfully jettisoning much of the unpopular Chirac administration. He moved his party to the right, adopting both more economically liberal themes but also adopting nationalist themes, with opponents and even internal party critics suggesting that he was moving closer to the Front National and attempting to steal their electorate. Indeed, the FN lost large numbers of voters to the UMP in this early Sarkozy period.

However, Sarkozy’s regime was buffeted by continued poor economic performance, especially after the global financial crash of 2008 with austerity proving highly unpopular in France. Sarkozy was also involved in corruption scandals, and his approach to the Presidency was unpopular in France. Sarkozy was the ‘hyperpresident’, living the high life with wealthy friends, an internationally famous supermodel wife, and centralising power into his own hands in a way not seen since the Giscard presidency.

Nonetheless Sarkozy only lost the 2012 Presidential election by less than 2% of the vote in a campaign in which he visibly targeted Marine Le Pen’s 17.9% of the vote.

After the Presidential election, the UMP was thrown into chaos after a closely contested leadership election between Sarkozy’s former PM, Francois Fillon, who represented the party’s more moderate wing and Jean-Francois Cope, the party’s Secretary-General who was more right-wing and populist, though the differences were more of style than of policy. However a key question lurking in the background was how the UMP should re-orientate itself towards the FN, with some on the party’s right wanting to ally with the FN. Cope was much more ambiguous on this than Fillon.

The election was incredibly hard fought and the results came down to just nine votes. Both candidates accused each other of electoral fraud, and Cope used his position as secretary-general to shut down the vote. In response Fillon and his supporters temporarily split the party, creating a rump UMP, with the two only just patched up in a deal which involved giving Cope the leadership of the party but dividing remaining leadership positions between his and Fillon’s supporters.

The UMP, hurt by this very visible infighting, and without clear leadership (there is also the strong possibility that Sarkozy may attempt to make another run for the Presidency in 2017) has found it difficult to benefit from the incumbent Socialist Party’s troubles and the party remains extremely unpopular.

As a vast catch-all party the UMP has many internal factions and even allows minor parties to ‘affliate’ to it. Current affiliate parties are the highly socially conservative Christian Democratic Party, the right-Gaullist and Eurosceptic Rally for France and the social democratic Progressives, set up by former Socialist supporters of Sarkozy.

In 2009 the UMP ran in concert with the New Centre, a party formed from the right wing half of the rump UDF which wanted to continue cooperating with the UMP without joining it. New Centre has joined the Union of Democrats and Independents this year which is running in concert with the Democratic Movement. As such the New Centre and the UDI will be discussed as part of the Democratic Movement section.

The leader of the European People’s Party, Joseph Daul, is a UMP MEP. The UMP is, broadly, pro-European but has more Eurosceptic factions.

The UMP has historically not been particularly cooperative with the EPP due, perhaps, to its distinctive ideology (Gaullism), large size giving it more independence, and internal diversity. The UMP has maintained 96.3% loyalty in the 2009-2014 term, more average for an EPP party, perhaps due to its holding the leader.


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