Sunday, 9 June 2013

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet - a highly unconventional political rebel and my favourite French political personality

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet
If you were asked to to choose your favourite French political personality, which criteria would be the most deciding factor in your decision? The political opinions they defend? Their debating skills? Their high level of honesty? (No, scrub that, that criteria doesn't apply to politicians.) Their experience maybe?

Those are all valid criteria of course, but my main criteria is that the person must be a free electron with an eccentric side to their manner of doing politics which sets them apart from all the drab party-line following clones. And if there is one French political personality who fits that description to a tee it has to be right-of-centre UMP politician Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

The first thing that stikes me about her is that she doesn't even look like a politician. Kosciusko-Morizet's vestimentary style is, well, ummm, not exactly coordinated, and it cannot be said that she is exactly the most beautiful of women in a classic sense either. She has often been referred to as being 'pale' or 'pasty' faced and it has often been remarked that she looks tired. Makeup isn't her strong point. She obviously spends little time on it. No complementary chic outfits of classy skirts and blouses of the sort that 99% of female politicians wear for her either, she tends towards a rather frumpy and old-fashioned look and wears what most people would consider to be bland and outdated outfits. Her hair is a permanent mess, generally tied carelessly back with what look like supermarket quality clips and bands which struggle against the odds to keep it in place. And it's not as if her hair doesn't deserve better because - and as can be seen in the rare photos of her in which she lets it down - she actually has the kind of hair that many women would be more than pleased to show off to the world if they could. But she looks as if she just got out of bed. She just doesn't seem to care about all that fashion stuff, and that is rare in politics today, where image is everything.

Nor does she behave like most other politicians. She swears a lot and - sin of all sins for a politician - is often to be seen smoking in the street, and she even smokes when she speaks to members of the public during meetings and other events. That's political suicide for most people, but not for her. On the contrary, people like her honest, frank and down-to-earth approach with the public. French political parties consist of several ideological clans, or factions, and being a member of one of them is considered to be an essential advantage for ambitious politicians who want to climb further up the party ladder and get noticed by party leadership and the press. Not so Kosciusko-Morizet. She is a member of no party clan. 'Worse' still, she is despised by some of them and has been involved in numerous spats with other party members. She is considered to be an outcast by many, and has a substantial number of political enemies within the UMP. But she doesn't care about all that either. After all, despite - or perhaps I should say precisely because of - her fierce intellectual and political independence, she was noticed early on in her career by Jacques Chirac, who promptly invited her to dinner. He subsequently helped her carer in many ways. Now that's what I call being different.

But is she an effective politician and has she reached a point where she is influential despite her rather singular and controversial character? The answer is yes on both counts. She became a deputy in 2002 at 29, which is very young by French standards, and was reelected in 2007 and 2012. She went on to become the Ecology State Secretary in 2007 before taking over the post of secretary of state with responsibility for Forward Planning, Assessment of Public Policies and Development of the Digital Economy in 2010. One year later she was appointed as Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing under Nicolas Sarkozy, who would later make her his official spokesperson for his reelection campaign. 

How did she get that high up the ladder?  Kosciusko-Morizet is known for being a very hard, almost obsessive and obsessed worker, as illustrated by the following words, spoken by fellow UMP member Serge Dassault who was praising her work on transport and sustainable development issues during her time as Ecology minister;
"I just don't know how she does it. She works on everything at once - bridges, rail transport, ports, everything, and on top of that she [as a mayor] looks after her circumscription. She really is a formidable woman."
But that's not surprising given that another politician had said of her years earlier, when she was a mayor, that;
"She knows all about every single pothole in Longjumeau."
That said, perhaps - and, again, unlikely on the face of it - the principal reason for her success is her personality, which can vary between anything from charming to highly aggressive. She is said to be a highly patient, knowledgeable and persuasive politician when the mood takes her, which is why both Chirac and Sarkozy appreciated her and often invited her to discuss issues and listen to her point of view. But she is better known for her fierce will to do and say things as she sees them. This trait of character, particularly disliked in female politicians by their male counterparts, is what got her demoted as a minister on one occasion, and Sarkozy would often rage against her departures from the party line in speeches and parliamentary discourses.

What is she up to today? She is the official UMP candidate for the upcoming mayoral elections in Paris, a city with a tradition of electing socialist mayors, often by landslides. Her attempt to become mayor is thus theoretically doomed in advance. But, again, Kosciusko-Morizet surprises us. The latest voting intention polls give her a deficit of just a few points with respect to her opponent, socialist Annie Hidalgo, and the gap is closing. Who knows, maybe she will be elected? Here we have a politically unconventional operator, an isolated and insolent rebel who is under no-one's command, but she may just pull off what the UMP has been trying - and failing - to do for many years. If that isn't an exceptional situation in today's political world in France I don't know what is.

To sum up, all of this is why Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet is my preferred political personality in France. She is dedicated to her work, she has genuinely honest relations and candid conversations with people she meets in the street, she sticks to her principles and she is - make no mistake about it - a canny and extremely talented politician.

And besides, who can possibly not like someone who, whilst smoking a cigarette in a public place, and after being advised by a nearby political communications and media advisor that smoking in public is perhaps not the best thing to do in terms of image, damningly and dismissively replies "tu vas arrêter de me casser les couilles ou quoi?!" Which, in plain English means;
"Are you going to stop breaking my balls or what?!"
That kind of straight talking is why Chirac, who appreciated her enormously, would affectionately refer to her as "the shit-stirrer." And he was absolutely right to do so.

Yup, no doubt about it, this lady has balls all right. She's a lone wolf, she's unfathomable, and my money says that she has not finished surprising us yet, not by a long chalk.


(This piece was inspired by a comment by Streaky on a post I published yesterday. Grateful thanks to him, her, or whatever it may be.)


  1. I'm a bloke, obviously. What kind of a girl would give herself the nickname Streaky?

    (It's a reference to bacon and not nakedness, by the way)

    I must confess, I don't know a lot about her, but I saw someone on TV the other night screaming "Dégage!" repeatedly in her ear. The sight actually made me feel quite uncomfortable. Another guy taking things WAY too seriously. But I'll look out for her from now on.

    (And I'm 42, married, no kids and I get closer and closer to going back home every year)

    1. Hi Streaky, I was 99% sure that you were a bloke. Still, never know and all that.

      Oh yeah, that guy screaming "dégage" was a total nutter! And besides, he was part of a group criticising her because she is in the UMP and the UMP was anti-gay marriage. Thing is though, she wasn't and is one of the few UMP members who didn't vote against it. Weird. Then again, tensions are high over all that what with Méric etc so....

      You're thinking of going back home? I'm not sure I ever will. I love England, it's a great country, but at 59 it would be difficult to find work as good as I have here as a translator. In fact at 59 it's hard to find any kind of job. Nah, I'm stayin'.

      Good day to ye!

    2. She abstained from voting. Political expediency I think they call it. She's ambitious, that one.

    3. Yup, she's a go-getter all right. Still, I like her off-the-wall style. The French would say that "elle a du chien cette nana."