But in April 2002, in the first round of the presidential elections, persistent social tensions, the question of security (a central theme for a large part of public opinion, frightened by the increasing migratory flows), as well as the choice by Jospin to focus electoral campaign on a moderate line that attenuated the differences compared to Chirac (considered, together with Jospin, the true protagonist of the electoral duel, beyond the other numerous candidacies), led to a hard and unexpected defeat of the socialist premier, outnumbered of votes from J.-M. Le Pen, leader of the FN. In a consultation that saw a high rate of abstentions and a fragmentation of the left forces, Jospin in fact obtained only 16.2 % of the votes, Chirac 19.9% and Le Pen 16.9 %; the latter was thus able to run for the second round ballot. Following a mobilization against the danger of a victory by the FN candidate who saw united center-right (whose main party had become the Union pour la majorité présidentielle , UMP, born on the eve of the elections from the confluence of most of the RPR, of Démocratie libérale , DL, and of the UDF) and most of the left, in the second round Chirac won an almost plebiscite victory (82.2 % of the votes). The subsequent political elections of June 2002 confirmed the choice of the electorate in favor of the moderate right: the UMP won 355 seats out of 577, while the PS obtained only 140, the Parti communiste français (PCF) 21 and the Verdi 3, and the FN was not assigned even a seat. However, the abstention that had manifested itself in the two electoral consultations (28.4 % in the first round of the presidential elections, 35.6 % in the first round of the legislative ones and 39.3%)% in the second) once again reaffirmed the distrust of the electorate towards politics and traditional politicians and the deep crisis of the left which, moreover, not only in France, seemed penalized by a progressive loss of its distinctive identity traits. The moderate right, on the other hand, consolidated around a new party, the Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP), which in November 2002 absorbed DL, RPR and parts of the UDF and the Rassemblement pour la France (a Gaullist-inspired parliamentary group, born in 1999 by Ch. Pasqua).
According to Shoppingpicks, the new center-right government, led by the exponent of DL J.-P. Raffarin, who had replaced Jospin since May (who resigned following the defeat in the presidential race), found itself having to face a series of scandals involving politicians of great importance: among these A. Juppé, ‘dolphin’ of Chirac and former prime minister, who in 2004 was sentenced in the first instance to 18months of detention and a ten-year ban from public office for having financed his party’s activities with illegal contracts with private companies at the time he was deputy mayor of Paris and secretary of the RPR. His sentence, although not applied pending the appeal sentence, dealt a serious blow to the political prestige of Chirac himself, mayor of Paris at the time of the disputed facts. In April 2003, a series of constitutional reforms were introduced which started, against a solid tradition of statism and centralism, a process of decentralization. Then, between 2003 and 2004, the question of the chador exploded , that is, whether or not Muslim girls are legitimized to wear the traditional veil in public schools. On the problem, which materially and symbolically was a testing ground for the French integration model, and in which the two contradictory values of the universalism of the secular tradition and of implicit relativism in respect of cultural diversity were measured, a bitter debate involved the public opinion, until the law of March 2004 which explicitly prohibited the use of religious symbols in public schools.
While economic and social difficulties worsened, starting with rising unemployment and poverty, the results of the regional and cantonal elections held in March 2004 reflected a significant decline in support around the government led by Raffarin: he resigned, but soon after was commissioned by Chirac to form a new government. In March 2005, the center-right majority approved in Parliament a profound modification of the 35- hour law, introducing greater flexibility in the management of time by companies, and thus launching a strong political signal against a law that had become a symbol of the left. . The referendum was held in Mayof ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty, preceded by an electoral campaign in which two politically and socially transversal camps clashed: against the first camp, which was made up of a wide range of political forces (from neo-Gaullists to socialists, to the Greens) and was an advocate of the European Union as well as its consolidation, an equally composite front moved, consisting of the FN, the PCF, important dissident fringes of the PS and the ecologists, the Trotskyists and the no global movements.
The motivations of the ‘no party’, in their diversity, reflected the fears and demands of a country marked by deep social, ideological and cultural fractures: in fact, a substantially anti-European far right converged into the party, which stood as a champion of national sovereignty and specificity, a ‘militant’ left, for which the new Europe would have imposed an increasingly liberal model to the detriment of social policies based on public commitment, and finally a set of social categories (farmers, workers, civil servants, immigrants, small entrepreneurs) united by the belief that Europe enlarged to the east paved the way for dangerous competition.
The announced defeat of the ‘yes’ (the votes against reached 54.87 % of the total), which affected a ruling class starting with President Chirac, led to the resignation of Raffarin in May, replaced by the former Minister of the Interior, the Gaullist D. de Villepin, and also sharpened the rifts in the socialist camp. The first of the European governments to suspend the Schengen treaty after the Islamic attacks of 7 July 2005 in London, the Villepin government found itself facing moments of social tension on labor law. In the fall of 2005in the Parisian suburbs, anger at the conditions of exclusion of young Maghrebi and Africans exploded in demonstrations and clashes with the police. A few months later a different unease, once again young, was imposed on the scene: high school and university students obtained, with street demonstrations, the de facto withdrawal of the Villepin law which, in the name of greater flexibility of the labor market, allowed the unfair dismissal of minors under 26 in the first two years of employment (April 2006). In the international field, following the attacks in New York and Washington of 11 September 2001, France participated in the military intervention in Afghānistān led by the United States (Feb.2002), however on several occasions expressing strong criticism of the foreign policy followed by the administration of GW Bush. Thus, on the question of Irāq, while signing UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (Nov. 2002), in which it was requested to allow UN inspectors to carry out checks on arms present in the country, in March 2003 Chirac reiterated the French veto on any resolution legitimizing a military intervention, and since the beginning of hostilities, in the following month, he sided decisively against it.