In an article dated from the 21st Fbruary in dans The Gardian, Marcel Berlins bets that François Bayrou will be the next French President :

“Take my advice, immediately. Rush to your nearest betting shop and place a bet that the next president of France will be called François Bayrou, about whom you may not know much. Unfortunately, Messrs Ladbroke, William Hill and Paddy Power may be equally ignorant of M Bayrou and will refuse to take your bet, so you may have to treat it as a virtual wager. Never mind, it’s the thought that counts; and that thought should be to forget all about Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal and resign yourself to a French leader with even less charisma than the next British prime minister.

Here’s the reason. The polls show that, if Bayrou were to get into the second round of the presidential election, he would beat his opponent, whether Sarkozy or Royal, and on May 7 become Jacques Chirac’s successor. So Bayrou’s problem is to find a way of being runner-up in the first round. Until recently, that seemed impossible. The final looked like a certain contest between Sarko and Sego, destined to be close. That was until Royal decided to enter self-destruct mode, carelessly whittling away the public support she had gained in the early, heady days of her candidature.She will find it difficult to recover from the failure of her “100 promises” speech to inspire, followed by Monday evening’s performance on French television. I have seen only excerpts, but from everything I have been told and read there seems to be a consensus that – discounting the biased views of both her implacable enemies and her sycophantic supporters – she was reasonably relaxed, competent in presentation, and made no specific mistakes. But – and it is an essential but – she was not exciting, charismatic or possessed of obvious leadership qualities. She needed to be sparkling to revive her campaign and reverse her decline in popularity. She wasn’t.

Enter Bayrou, who has been patiently waiting for just such an opportunity. His ratings in public opinion polls has been rising quietly but significantly. Before Royal’s television appearance he had reached 16% for the first round on April 22, against her 23%. (Le Pen looks out of the running; his shock second place in the 2002 elections will not be repeated.) But Bayrou’s graph is on the up whereas Royal’s is sliding; the gap is far from unbridgeable. Moreover, if the polls keep showing that Royal will be easily beaten by Sarkozy in a run-off, I see a flight of socialists to Bayrou in the first round, to ensure that he makes the final, with an excellent chance of winning. The other day, a separate poll showed that 55% hoped that he would reach the second round.

He may not be well known abroad, but he has long been a fixture in French politics – leader of the third largest party in the national assembly, the centrist UDF (Union for French Democracy), a former minister for education and a candidate in the 2002 presidential elections; he came fourth. He is 55, from an agricultural background near the Pyrenees, has six children, loves and breeds horses, and has written several books, mainly on French history. His manner is usually subdued (though his speeches have recently acquired a more emphatic delivery), and his policies are worthy without any hint of excitement or great originality. He calls for a government of national unity; he is at his most impressive when castigating the political elite and the media for being out of touch with the people.

How could the French possibly elect someone they have found so uninspiring for so long? Easy. Because half the country hates Sarkozy, and the other half can’t stand Royal, or at least finds her unsuitable for the highest office. The election will be fought largely on the “Anyone but …” principle. My money says that the “anyone” will be Bayrou”.