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Juppe: Chirac's faithful follower

By Thomas Fessy

Chirac (right) built Juppe's career.
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(CNN) -- Alain Juppe has always been considered among Jacques Chirac's most faithful followers.

The French president talks about him as "the best of us" among the rightist Gaullists.

Juppe, the 59-year-old legislator and mayor of Bordeaux, was born into a south-western farming family. He has been married twice and has three children.

He is renowned for his intelligence. After graduating with a literature degree, he attended the Paris political sciences Institute, the elite National Administration School, and the very selective Finances Inspection.

However, he has been criticized as "arrogant."

"Juppe doesn't look at what people are, he's only impressed by academically gifted ones" like him, Raphaelle Bacque, a political journalist at Le Monde and author of several books on Chirac political life, told CNN. "He has a theoretical view of power.

"He is Chirac's most faithful supporter. The former prime minister's loyalty towards the president is undeniable. Indeed, Juppe grew up in politics with him, always next to him or behind him. Chirac built his career," Bacque said.

As his speechwriter when Chirac was the prime minister in 1976, as the financial director at Paris city hall, between 1986 and 1988, when Chirac was the then mayor or as the chairman of Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) from 2002, Juppe's loyalty never swerved.

"He has a sort of admiration for who Chirac is," Bacque said. "That relationship is quite rare in politics. There is also an emotional link between them, they have close family ties."

Juppe and Chirac shared power in 1995 when the former was the government's chief under the latter's presidency.

In this position, he became one of the most unpopular prime ministers.

Thousands took to the streets in December 1995 protesting against social, welfare and public-sector reforms.

Juppe maintains he "wasn't prepared for it" and has always claimed his unpopularity was unfair. Bacque says his main problem is public opinion. "He doesn't understand it."

The outcome was the April 1997 Assembly dissolution followed by electoral defeat.

Chirac dissolved the National Assembly to face the French people's dissatisfaction.

"Juppe drove Chirac to the Assembly dissolution which was the worst strategy," Bacque said.

The early general elections led the socialists to power. Lionel Jospin became prime minister.

However, observers say that despite failures and disappointments, he always served his mentor with loyalty.

He managed the RPR Party, modernizing it, hiring new recruits, leading the neo-Gaullists to the European way and pushing away every temptation of alliance with the far right.

With Chirac's blessing, he controlled the Paris city hall finances throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

He has denied allowing people paid by city hall to work for the RPR.

"Denying what happened was a very bad defense line," Bacque told CNN. "Chirac has driven that strategy: Mr. Spziner, Juppe's lawyer, has been a presidential advisor since 1998," she said.

Juppe has however declared he "must assume (his) responsibilities as the boss."

Juppe is still working in two towns: In Bordeaux where he is the mayor and in Paris where he sits on the National Assembly and he is the general-secretary of the powerful French party, the UMP.

He created this party in an attempt to win the presidential elections.

"He was right when he created this party but he did in such a rigid manner provoking opposition," said Bacque. Many members raise the question of the UMP's future legitimacy without Juppe.

Regardless, Bacque believes to stay is politics Juppe "would have to change his personality which is quite difficult for someone aged nearly 60 years old."

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