Who ‘wins’ in the fight about the Toulouse shootings?

To say that French president Nicolas Sarkozy will try to use the Toulouse shootings to his advantage in the presidential race is fairly coals-to-Newcastle (or, if you will, coals-to-Nantes).

Although his campaign is already trying to fake the high road by accusing rivals of taking advantage of the incident for political gain, Sarkozy himself has managed to sound a message of national unity and calm, on the whole, which should be the first job of any head of state in the aftermath of a tragic event. That’s to be applauded.  

But politically, it’s a fluid situation, and while it’s already impacting the presidential race (and it was impossible for such a large event not to impact the race), it’s not clear to me that it’s a win for Sarkozy, even if the gunman does turn out to have ties — real or aspirational — to al-Qaeda.

In a world where Front national candidate Marine Le Pen will continue to deploy over-the-top rhetoric in arguing that the way to stop future shootings like those that occurred Monday is to ban French immigrants and treat Muslims with suspicion, and where Sarkozy wants to be seen to rise above petty politics by playing the statesman, Sarkozy may well have to lay off the immigration rhetoric that he’s used to such great effect in the past few weeks — thereby giving up (for now) the one tool that’s helped him claw his way back into contention for the first-round lead.

While Sarkozy may try to use the incident to paint himself as a stronger candidate on terrorism — I have no doubt that Sarkozy’s tough talk will be more convincing than Hollande’s — I’m still not so sure that will be such a clear win.

If it is true that French security forces have known about the gunman for “a long time,” and if Parti socialiste candidate François Hollande has any fiery pluck as a candidate, he should soon be asking why Sarkozy’s government let the suspect shoot three Muslim soldiers and then, days later, three Jewish schoolchildren and one parent, before going after him — and then taking the better part of a day to apprehend the gunman.


Evangelos Venizelos profile

Yannis Koutsomitis (follow him on Twitter @YanniKouts for all matters Greek) directs us to this profile of Evangelos Venizelos today, who’s the newly elected leader of the center-left Pasok party in Greece in advance of elections this spring.

The profile provides some background on the long-time rivalry between Venizelos and former prime minister George Papandreou:

Venizelos’ ill-fated challenge to Papandreou for the Pasok leadership in 2007, after Pasok was defeated by New Democracy, opened the long, winding road to the March 18 party leadership elections.
That the two men disliked each other deeply was plainly apparent, if for nothing else because of Venizelos’ withering criticism in 2007 of Papandreou’s intellectual and political capabilities. Venizelos seemed to view Papandreou – whose father and Pasok founder Andreas Papandreou had launched the minister’s career by appointing him government spokesman – as the princely dauphin whose hereditary right to the throne blocked his own great ambitions.

French shooting upends presidential campaign

The tragic killing of four people outside a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday by Mohamed Merah, a gunman of Algerian origin, who may also have murdered three Muslim soldiers elsewhere in southern France, and who has ties to Afghanistan, has become a powder keg pivot point in the French presidential election.

With so much of a focus on immigration by both incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and Front national candidate Marine Le Pen — the campaign just a couple of weeks ago went a round on the threat of halal meat in France — it is not difficult to see how this story could galvanize the campaign in the days ahead in a way that could challenge the calmer, more pro-immigration voices of frontrunner François Hollande of the Parti socialiste.

The shocking event provides both Hollande and Sarkozy a crisis of the first order to demonstrate their particular styles of presidential leadership.

For now, a quick rundown of the responses so far: Continue reading French shooting upends presidential campaign

What will happen in this spring’s Greek elections?

Evangelos Venizelos, formerly the beleaguered finance minister of what remains of the Greek government, fresh off a negotiation of Greece’s second bailout (including an orderly debt writedown deal with private creditors), won the uncontested leadership of Greece’s main center-left party Sunday, in advance of legislative elections expected to occur in late April or early May.

Although he had only served as finance minister since June 2011, Venizelos quickly became battle-tested in having faced down the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.  If you can negotiate against Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde and who-knows-how-many creditors, and you can emerge with Greece remaining intact, however delicately, perhaps you have a decent shot are rehabilitating the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα), or “PASOK” (ΠΑΣΟΚ in Greek).

But if Greece’s economy is in shambles, its politics are perhaps in even worse shape — no one thinks Venizelos’s new job will be any easier.

A new poll today shows PASOK with just 12.5% support (down from the 44% it received in the 2009 elections), and Greece’s center-right New Democracy party (Νέα Δημοκρατία) with just 22.5% support (down from 33.5% that it received in the 2009 elections).

Former minister of culture Antonis Samaris will lead New Democracy into the election, which will be only the second Greek election that neither a Papandreou nor a Karamanlis will lead one of the major parties, at least since Greece returned to democracy in 1974.

Continue reading What will happen in this spring’s Greek elections?