Dominique de Villepin was appointed Prime Minister by President Jacques Chirac in early June 2005 in the wake of the “no” vote on the EU Constitutional Treaty. Although anticipated by some, the choice of Villepin still left many people incredulous. How could a technocrat without a political base, who belongs to the President’s inner circle and is one of the individuals most closely associated with the policies of the past ten years, be an appropriate response to France’s domestic and European malaise?
But just five months later, Villepin’s performance in the job, despite the difficult economic environment, is widely viewed as good. Part of the reason for this perception is that Villepin has been a surprise: he is not saying and doing what most people, analysts as well as citizens, expected him to say and do. The “domestication” of the former French Foreign Minister—his movement away from the grand issues of international relations to the grey reality of domestic concerns—seems to be working. It has allowed him to enter into the cercle des présidentiables, the exclusive club of ambitious politicians considered to have a reasonable chance of becoming president one day. More generally, Villepin is joining a political fray characterized, on both sides of the political spectrum, by individual repositioning, party alliance reshuffles and looming ideological battles. All this in view of one, and one thing only: the presidential election of May 2007.