The Rise and Fall of Jean-François Copé

June 15 Main Image

From November 19, 2012 to June 15, 2014, Jean-François Copé was the President of France’s center-right UMP. He leaves the presidency disgraced, marred in scandals, and with questionable results.

Jean-François Copé officially resigned today from the presidency of France’s center-right UMP – effectively resigning as leader of the opposition. Copé left the presidency of the party amidst the Bygmalion scandal where Copé and his associates are accused of falsifying bills during the 2012 presidential campaign. Copé’s stint as de facto opposition leader can best be interpreted as a series of unparalleled highs contrasted with deep and glaring failures, all shrouded in suspicion.

In November 2012, the UMP held a special vote to determine the new party leader following the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy. Copé, then the Secretary General of the Party (its highest internal post when the French President is of the UMP), was both a candidate and charged with organizing the internal election. Following a bitter campaign against Sarkozy’s popular, albeit uncharismatic, former Prime Minister, François Fillion, Copé was elected with less than 100 votes out of over 160,000. Fillion naturally cried foul and a month-long leadership battle began where the very existence of the party was contested.

Ultimately, after rounds of failed mediation by major French politicians such as Alain Juppé, Nathalie Koscuisko-Morizet, and even Nicolas Sarkozy, an agreement was reached splitting the executive team and giving Copé the presidency. Copé is an atypical French politician combining a mix of far-right populism with economic liberalism and his own personal belligerent yet hyperactive style. Needless to say, this made the new UMP President a polarizing figure and his popularity rating never topped 22% during his Presidency.

Yet for all his shortcomings, the actual results of Copé’s leadership is less clear than his popularity might suggest. In the March 2014 municipal elections, the UMP scored a landslide handing the governing Socialist Party a heavy loss losing over 155 towns of more than 9000 inhabitants. Copé attributed this result to his leadership of the party and his strategy for the election. Although this might have contributed, it is far more likely that this vote was a political sanction against French President Franćois Hollande and his government rather than a vote for Copé’s UMP. This fact was solidified in the May 2014 European elections where the UMP came second behind the extreme right National Front – an unthinkable result.

In the final analysis, Copé’s legacy does not lie in the result of his party in elections, but rather in his failure to capitalize on the terrible management of Hollande and his governments. The job of an opposition leader is first and foremost to present an alternative to the current government. Copé, on the other hand, spent his time gearing himself for a potential presidential campaign in 2017 and dividing his party to eliminate his competition. This evidently contributed to both his negative rating and the overall view of the party.

Jean-François Copé is an extremely talented politician and I have no doubt that he will be able to rebound from his current troubles. That said, if Copé truly wishes to lead France one day, he must put aside his clan-like mentality and focus on bringing people together – that begins with his political party. Copé has a dynamism that is rare in French politics and that can contribute greatly to the advancement of the country, but that begins with putting aside his incessant desire for revenge and putting his party and his country first – with that in mind there’s no saying how far Jean-François Copé can go!

Other relevant links: