Resume list for French presidency: Tough stance on Iran, discipline young offenders, look good in bikini

By Tom Hundley MCT

PARIS – Segolene Royal is a French Socialist who describes herself as a pragmatist.

She takes a tough line on Iran’s nuclear program and favors military discipline for young offenders at home. She professes admiration for British Prime Minister Tony Blair but vows to protect French jobs from globalization.

She also looks swell in a bikini, many of her countrymen believe, as evidenced in a celebrity magazine scandal last summer that started out as an embarrassment and ended up as a plus.

A combination of all of the above could be enough to carry Royal, 53, to the French presidency next spring. She would be the first woman to occupy the Elysee Palace.

This week she is expected to wrap up her party’s nomination for a presidential run. Most polls show her securing the necessary 50 percent majority in the first round of voting Thursday. If she falls short, there will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters.

Traditionally, politics in France has been the domain of gray men in gray suits. Sego, as the French press has dubbed her, is clearly something different, and many are not quite sure how to react to her candidacy.

Former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, an eminent “gray suit” of the French left and one of her rivals for the Socialist Party’s presidential nomination, shot himself in the foot early on when he asked sarcastically, “Who will mind the children?”

Royal has four children with her long-term partner Francois Hollande, who also happens to be chairman of the Socialist Party, and until recently harbored presidential ambitions of his own.

Royal and Hollande met in the 1970s at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Paris, the training ground of France’s ruling class. The daughter of an army officer, Royal was born in Senegal when it was still a French colony, and despite her socialist sympathies, manages to project a certain sense of imperial entitlement.

Her career in politics was marked by an ambitious rise through the socialist governments of Francois Mitterrand, capped by her appointment as minister of the environment in the early ’90s. Later, under the power-sharing “cohabitation” government of President Jacques Chirac, she served as vice minister for education and vice minister for family and childhood.

She is currently a member of the National Assembly and the elected president of the Poitou-Charentes region, a job that could be compared with a U.S. governorship.

The publication of the famous bikini photos in a celebrity magazine last summer appeared to be a grave breach of the unwritten French protocol that scrupulously protects the private lives of politicians. Royal threatened to sue, but the photos were so flattering and well-received by the public that the matter was dropped.