PARIS (AP) — Meet France’s new conservatives, same as the old conservatives — but with a different name.
The UMP — an acronym for “union for a popular movement” — on Saturday officially changed its name to “the Republicans” after a two-day vote by members.
The party, under the leadership of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is hoping that shedding its old name will also help unload some political baggage before the 2017 presidential race.
The change has prompted some indignation in France, which people from across the political spectrum routinely refer to as “the Republic.” Some leftist opponents persuaded a court to take the case, arguing that Sarkozy was trying to privatize a French symbol.
A court ruled in favor of the conservative party this week, with a final judgment expected later in a case that could drag out for more than a year.
“I would ask of those on the left who want to deny us the name Republican, what have you done for the Republic?” Sarkozy told a cheering crowd Saturday at the party’s congress.
Republicans across the Atlantic might not recognize themselves in their French namesakes — few here would question universal health care, reduce taxes or slash unemployment benefits.
But France’s ruling Socialist party is happy to draw the comparison. On Saturday it launched a poster campaign mocking Sarkozy, using a photo of him riding a horse that compares him to a cowboy in a reference to the American Republican Party. Socialist Party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis has made a point of discussing Sarkozy’s “fascination” with former U.S. President George W. Bush, who remains an unpopular figure in France.
Sarkozy was elected to lead the UMP six months ago, returning to the political scene after a hiatus when he lost to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012. He has made it clear he plans to use the renovated version of the party as a springboard for the next presidential election in 2017.
The conservative party chooses its presidential nominee next year. Sarkozy appears likely to face at least two rivals: his own prime minister, Francois Fillon, and Alain Juppe, another former prime minister under president Jacques Chirac.
Lori Hinnant contributed.
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