Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Sarkozy hits trail to fuel French passions

In the lead-up to the European parliamentary elections, the debate in France has been lively, with President Sarkozy at the forefront.

There is nothing like an election to whip up a bit of Gallic passion, not to mention mudslinging. While much of the rest of the continent might be sleepwalking towards the European parliament elections, France, arguably the most actively pro-EU nation, is taking it all rather more seriously.

True, many voters on Sunday will be voting on national issues and delivering their verdict on the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, but at least the French are discussing European issues, if to the point of being rude to each other about them. A spat broke out last month between Rachida Dati, the justice minister, and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the veteran Green leader who has sat as an MEP, at different times representing both France and Germany.

The two are rivals in the same Île de France constituency, and Mr Cohn-Bendit has suggested that Ms Dati would simply not bother to go to Strasbourg for European parliament meetings if elected. "Rachida Dati will go to the European parliament? My eye, my eye!" he said in a radio interview. "To get stuck with committees, to get stuck in a place where there are no cameras. Don't make me laugh." Mr Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) demanded an apology, while Ms Dati snorted: "I understand that a man of the past would seek to come out from the shadows. I ignore those like Daniel Cohn-Bendit because, in five years in the European parliament, he has not achieved any results."

Two such high-profile candidates going at it hammer and tongs in such a public way is not something you see in most other countries during a Euro election. And unlike, say, Gordon Brown across the Channel, Mr Sarkozy himself is spearheading the election campaign with relish. Campaigning is one of the things the French president likes best. "He rants, complains, praises, spouts polemics, speaks of 'a beautiful France' in the heart of Europe and evokes the era of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle," observed Der Spiegel after the president addressed an election rally in Nîmes. "Sarkozy is back - not as the head of state, not as president, but as the election campaigner in perpetual motion."

The obvious pleasure the French president derives from campaigning, though, is not the only reason for his being out on the stump. Mr Sarkozy is simply not as popular as he once was with many sections of French society. His conservative reform programme has upset everyone from judges and doctors to prison officers and, inevitably, the unions. There have been protest marches, wildcat strikes, company bosses being taken hostage by workers and even occasional acts of industrial sabotage, prompting Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister, to speak of France being on "the eve of a revolution".

Even so, the opinion polls are still running in Mr Sarkozy's favour, at the expense of Martine Aubry and her opposition Socialist Party. This is Ms Aubry's first electoral test since becoming the socialist leader. "If she does much less well than the party's dream score from last time (29 per cent of the vote), 'comrades' in search for revenge will make sure to question her legitimacy," says Le Point, the weekly news magazine. The Socialist Party is currently polling at about 24 per cent.

Perhaps, though, the real battles will involve the smaller parties on the far Left, the far Right and the Greens. When they are not squabbling among themselves, they have real power to divert votes from both the UMP and Socialists. Additionally, Mr Sarkozy cannot be that happy with the performance of Bernard Kouchner, his foreign minister and formerly a member of the Socialist Party. Mr Kouchner hesitated before backing Michael Barnier, the UMP agriculture minister, in his attempt to become an MEP. Even when he did, Mr Kouchner's endorsement was scarcely a ringing one, prompting a Socialist candidate to compare it to "a salesman who hesitates to accompany you in the car he has sold you".

It has provided great fun for the political media but what does the homme in the street make of it all? Jonny Dymond, a BBC reporter based in Brussels who is engaged on an election tour across the continent, says: "There is always something of a paradox about France and the EU. If you listen to French leaders - local, regional or national - the EU is France's destiny. After all, was it not a French creation? Does the European flag not flutter from tens of thousands of town halls across the land?

"But if you talk to French citizens of all classes and ages, there are doubts, hesitations and questions about the EU that reflect French insecurity about both the direction of the EU and France's place within it. "There is nothing like the angry scepticism you find in Britain. But there is genuine mystification about how what was once a cosy, pretty much French-led club is now a sprawling organisation with 27 members, where France has to work hard to get herself heard."


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National