François Bayrou and the Democratic Movement
François Bayrou's Democratic Movement (Modem) shows some signs of insitutionalising itself as a party. It is holding a founding conference this weekend. Bayrou is the only candidate to be party president and the party is very much his creation. Nevertheless it has at least passed the stage of being Bayrou's support organisation for elections in France earlier this year.
The new party has 50 to 60 thousand members which is promising. That's a bit less than the British Liberal Democrats and should be enough for a third party sustainable over time, and which might challenge the two main forces. Sarkozy has tried to seize control of the whole politicalş spectrum between the Socialists and the National Front. Bayrou has at at least succeeded in limiting Sarkozy's hegemonising project.
French greens join Modem
One of the most interesting news items about the congress is that one of the French green parties (CAp21) is integrating with Modem, suggesting a genuine force beyond one individual. CAP 21 is itself a very personalised party led by a former Environment minister, Corinne Lepage, who was allied with the old UDF. Modem has a strange history, or non-history, going back to the non-communist resistance during the Occupaiton of France, post-war catholic centrist politics, Giscard's UDF which brought Catholic centrists into alliance with other parties of the centre and centre right, the evolution of the Catholic centre into a more secular organisation, the absorption of most of UDF into a relaunched post-Gaullist right, and Bayrou's determination that there should be a continuing centrist political force. A party rooted in a tradition of liberal, radical and democratic principles would be preferable but that is not an option in France. Last time I checked Modem could not define a tradition or place itself in history. Maybe that will begin to happen now that Modem is a a fully formed party, already integrating a green party. This move gives Modem the chance to strike a distinctive note as party orientated towards green issues.
Political Traditions in France
Bayrou has some of the disadvantages of a politician from the Catholic centre, for one thing he opposes Turkey's membership of the European Union. The party is still in a very formative stage, we shall see. It's a bit difficult to define a clear liberal and radical (in the oldest sense tradition in France, On the whole liberalism has been applied to a part of the right and the radicals have been a neo-Jacobin statist party, which split between left and right currents in the 1970s.
We might now see a movement emerge that can refer itself to the great intellectual liberal tradition in France: Montesquieu, Benjamin Constant, Madame de Stael,Physicocrats, Alexis de Tocqueville; the moderate parts of the Revolution, Mirabeau the Younger and the Girondins; the most durable parts of the radical and republican tradition: secularism, citizenship, integration of all citizens into common citizenship. The Catholic centre made a great historical contribution, as the pro de Gaulle part of the resistance, as the current which produced Robert Schuman second architect of the European Union after Jean Monnet.