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Catholic-inspired Bayrou seeks to break French left-right mould

  • 02 April 2007

With the first round of France’s presidential election looming, opinion polls credit Catholic father of six and Pyrenees racehorse breeder, Francois Bayrou, with around 22% support, just behind Socialist, Segolene Royal (25%), and presidential favorite, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy (26%).

It’s a remarkable effort by the 55 year old former schoolteacher and president of the 'centrist' Union for French Democracy (UDF) party, a relatively small party boasting only 29 deputies in France’s 577 seat National Assembly.

What’s more, if Bayrou manages to outscore either Sarkozy or (more likely) Royal, then he is likely to emerge as favorite for the run off as socialists and conservatives seek to block their rivals from the Presidency.

It is well worth looking then at the political – and spiritual – heritage that Francois Bayrou represents. Indeed, Bayrou has never hidden neither his Catholic faith nor its importance for his vocation as a politician. "I am a Christian-democrat and fully aware of the significance of the linkage between the two words", he repeated recently.

Bayrou spent much of his youth, he recounts, in the non-violent circles of the Gandhian Christian pacifists and followers of Lanza del Vasto, which is why he feels at home among ecologists, whose "movement draws on the same sources". And many of Bayrou’s positions do in fact correspond to those of the modern environmental movement – moratorium on GM foods, support for bio-fuels, organic farming, a call to "defend the planet". His positions on these and other issues illustrate why, even though his French critics often attempt to classify Bayrou with the right, he would generally be regarded as centre left on the Australian political spectrum. Even on litmus-test 'faith' issues, Bayrou has managed to carve out political positions that seek to respect Catholic teaching without necessarily alienating other groups. He backs legal recognition of 'civil unions' among homosexuals, for example, while insisting that such unions remain legally distinct from marriage between a man and woman. He also supports the right of homosexuals to adopt children as individuals – as heterosexual singles may also do – but not as couples. He also opposed the Iraq war because it was "not a just war" and was "contrary to the wishes of the international community and the UN". However, he also criticised Europe’s role in the crisis, saying that if the continent had managed to unite, it could have perhaps prevented the alliance of