Analysis: French presidential election

Referendums, nuclear power, mocking Hollande - how Sarkozy plans to stay French president

Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

Nicolas Sarkozy has kicked off his campaign for reelection and he seems to be having a whale of a time.


Before an audience of supporters on Thursday he laid into his Socialist rival, François Hollande, who is way ahead in the polls, declaring that he was a man who lied “morning noon and night”.

Sarkozy gives the impression of being happy to get stuck in, glad to drop the role of the president who is above the fray of electioneering, and be the political animal that he is.

From now on, he hopes to set the agenda, after 3 weeks in which Hollande’s campaign has gathered huge momentum.

He has already floated his big referendum idea and he likes the feedback he is getting.

In an interview with the right-wing Le Figaro magazine and again when he formally announced his candidacy, Sarkozy explained that, if re elected, he would set referendums in his second term of office.

He plans to ask the French people directly whether they agree with his proposal to make unemployed people undertake training in areas where jobs are available, in return for their welfare cheques. He might also set a referendum on immigration policy.

Sarkozy’s a lawyer and he’s a good TV performer – his team hint that his strategy will be to expose what he sees is the total absence of new ideas in his main rival’s programme.

The president knows the French don’t particularly like his personality - he has never been able to shake off the bling-bling label he attracted in his early days in office.

But he HAS been praised for his energetic and determined handling of the eurozone crisis, and endlessly pushes the image of a Captain steering a ship through a terrible storm.

He reckons Hollande is weak on France’s nuclear energy policy, and that his economic sums do not add up. He will rubbish what he considers to be an unpopular Socialist idea to let foreigners vote in local elections. He will mock Hollande’s plan to renegotiate the hard-fought fiscal pact agreed at an angry meeting of EU leaders in December, and he will wave the spectre of France becoming another Greece if spending is not cut back.

He’s proud of his reforms: introducing a minimum service rule on public transport during strikes, raising the retirement age, reform of the university system, banning the burqa in public places. He says his predecessors shied away from such legislation, and reminds voters regularly, that during his five years in office, he was never forced to withdraw a proposal because of resistance from the street.

So expect him to try to push all this onto the front pages of the newspapers, and expect to hear him hammer on about the values he says matter most: work, respect, responsibility, and authority.

He has three aims:

  • to make François Hollande, the self-styled discreet, normal guy, appear aimless rudderless and bankrupt of ideas.
  • to erase the image he projected early in his presidency of the brash, hyperactive, bling-bling guy
  • to project the idea that France needs him to stay at the wheel to avert disaster, even if voters will never like him.



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