Sarkozy courts French far right after Hollande win

Mon Apr 23, 2012 6:55pm EDT

1 of 7. France's President and UMP party candidate for the 2012 French presidential elections Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to supporters at La Mutualite meeting hall in Paris after early results in the first round vote of the 2012 French presidential election April 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

Related Topics

(Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy appealed directly to far right voters on Monday with pledges to get tough on immigration and security, after a record showing in a first round election by the National Front made them potential kingmakers.

Polls show centre-right leader Sarkozy on course to become the first French president to lose a bid for re-election in more than 30 years, trailing Socialist challenger Francois Hollande ahead of a May 6 run-off.

Hollande pipped Sarkozy in Sunday's 10-candidate first round by 28.6 percent to 27.2 percent, but National Front leader Marine Le Pen stole the show, surging to 17.9 percent, the biggest tally a far-right candidate has ever managed.

Her performance mirrored advances across the continent by anti-establishment Euroskeptical populists from Amsterdam and Vienna to Helsinki as the euro zone's grinding debt crisis deepens anger over government spending cuts and unemployment.

"National Front voters must be respected," Sarkozy told reporters as he left his campaign headquarters in Paris. "They voiced their view. It was a vote of suffering, a crisis vote. Why insult them? I have heard Mr Hollande criticizing them."

The unpopular Sarkozy, the first sitting president to be forced into second place in the first round of a re-election bid, now faces a difficult balancing act to attract both the far-right and centrist voters he needs to stay in office.

The weak showing by Sarkozy spooked investors already nervous about European governments' ability to service their debts, helping to send French stocks and bonds lower.

Returning to the campaign trail on Monday, Sarkozy hammered home promises to toughen border controls, tighten security on the streets and keep industrial jobs in France - signature issues for Le Pen at a time of anger over immigration, violent crime and unemployment running at a 12-year high.

Sarkozy will hold a "real workers'" day rally on May 1 in a bid to upstage simultaneous events held by Hollande, the FN and trade unions.

After five turbulent years leading the world's fifth economy, Sarkozy could go the way of 10 other euro zone leaders swept from office since the start of the crisis in late 2009.

Hollande has vowed to change the direction of Europe by tempering austerity measures with higher taxes on the rich and more social spending. Polls published on Sunday predicted he would win the run-off with between 53 and 56 percent of votes.

But the strong showing of Le Pen, gravel-voiced 43-year-old daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, offered Sarkozy a glimmer of hope by suggesting there are more votes up for grabs on the right than had been thought.

"Marine Le Pen's breakthrough throws the second round wide open," read the front page of right-leaning Le Figaro, while left-wing Liberation read: "Hollande leads. Le Pen the killjoy".

HIGH TURNOUT

Hollande blamed Sarkozy for fuelling the rise in the far right and said he would make no attempt to seek National Front votes. "Since some voters supported them out of anger, I will listen to them...but I will not court the far right," he said.

On a strong turnout of 80.2 percent, more than a third of voters cast ballots for protest candidates outside the mainstream, foreshadowing a possible reshaping of France's political balance of power at parliamentary elections in June.

Le Pen's focus is now on securing a strong National Front showing in the parliamentary vote, and she is keeping her distance from Sarkozy, describing him as doomed.

"Faced with an outgoing president who will leave a much weakened party, we are the only true opposition to the neo-liberal left," she told cheering supporters on Sunday.

She said she would give her view on the runoff at a May Day rally in Paris. Speaking on France 2 she said it was insulting to her voters to say they had chosen her in protest and suggested she would not formally endorse either candidate.

"I don't change my mind like I change my shirt," she said. "I have nothing to sell or negotiate. For a long time I have considered Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande to be the same on core subjects."

It is not the first time Sarkozy has appealed to National Front voters before a runoff - the tactic helped him win his first mandate in 2007. Le Pen's strategy director Florian Philippot said it would not work twice: "The French no longer fall for this electioneering game Sarkozy plays."

Financial market analysts say whoever wins in two weeks' time will have to impose tougher austerity measures than either candidate has admitted during the campaign, cutting public spending as well as raising taxes to cut the budget deficit.

INVESTOR JITTERS

European markets were sour after the French results and the Dutch government's failure to push through an austerity budget made elections there almost unavoidable. The euro retreated from two-week highs, European stocks opened lower, and safe-haven German bonds opened higher, increasing the premium investors demand to hold French and Dutch bonds.

"It's beginning to look like the perfect storm," said Stewart Richardson, chief investment officer at RMG. "It looks like the French vote was more against Sarkozy than we would have thought last week, and so there is a leftward lurch in France."

Sarkozy challenged Hollande to three television debates over the next two weeks instead of the customary one. But Socialist aides said Hollande, who has no ministerial experience and is a less accomplished television performer than Sarkozy, had made clear he would accept only one prime-time live debate, on May 2.

Communist-backed hard leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who polls showed at one stage challenging Le Pen for third place, finished a distant fourth on 11.1 percent, ahead of centrist Francois Bayrou with 9.1 percent.

Political pundits said Hollande still appears to have larger reserves of second-round votes than Sarkozy, who would need to pick up at least three quarters of Le Pen's supporters and two thirds of Bayrou's to squeak a wafer-thin victory.

Polls taken on Sunday by three institutes suggested that between 48 and 60 percent of Le Pen voters planned to switch to the president, while Bayrou's backers split almost evenly between the two finalists, with one third undecided.

Bayrou said he would make his decision on May 3 after consulting and listening to the two finalists.

"The game is getting very difficult for Nicolas Sarkozy," Jerome Saint-Marie of CSA polling agency told i>TELE. "There's a genuine demand for social justice, precisely because times are hard and voters see sacrifices will have to be made ... What they want is that this pain is fairly shared."

Melenchon, whose fiery calls for a "citizens' revolution" drew tens of thousands to open-air rallies, urged his followers to turn out massively on May 6 to defeat Sarkozy, but he could not bring himself to mention Hollande by name.

Greens candidate Eva Joly endorsed Hollande, who can also count on the modest votes of two Trotskyist also-rans.

"Sarkozy is going to be torn between campaigning in the middle ground and campaigning on the right. He'll have to reach out to the right between the rounds, so he'll lose the centre," said political scientist Stephane Rozes of the CAP think-tank.

If Hollande wins, joining a small minority of left-wing governments in Europe, he has promised to renegotiate a European budget discipline treaty signed by Sarkozy. That could presage tension with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made the pact a condition for further assistance to troubled euro zone states.

A spokesman for Merkel said on Monday she continued to support Sarkozy but had no plans to campaign on his behalf.

(Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer, John Irish, Nicholas Vinocur, Vicky Buffery, Alexandria Sage, Brian Love, Matthias Blamont and Daniel Flynn in Paris, Anirban Nag in London; Editing by Peter Graff)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (11)
Lord_Foxdrake wrote:
Someone tell me what exactly has Sarkozy done for France?

From what I see, he’s another empty suit; placed there by power brokers to do things in the interest of the 1%.

I can understand a far right candidate like … Adolf Hitler.

See, say anything you want about Hitler but he put people back to work, rebuilt the national infrastructure, and raised the standard of living.

If he stopped short of invading Poland he would have gone down as the greatest German leader in history. Heck, he could have invaded Poland and just finished off England and never attacked Russia and he might have WON the war.

I might disagree with the genocide of the Jews and all, but you have to admit he put his people first…ALL HIS PEOPLE … well except the Jews that was awful…but people went back to WORK and had jobs! And that’s the important thing!

Hitler wasn’t just for the 1%. He didn’t just give Krupp a tax break and cut benefits to the poor.

No! He made Krupp give the average Germans jobs and he walked away from the treaty of Versailles. Good for him.

Hitler got the economy going, got people out of the slums and saved his country from hyper-stag-flation.

I understand that. I understand a Right Wing candidate that does this.

But Sarkozy? Give me a break. He’s a user car salesman more interested in getting what he can for himself and his friends.

How do these phony Right Wing phonies get elected? or re-elected?

I’m center-left and Progressive but I understand a Right Wing leader like HITLER; who puts his people first.

Tell me have any RIGHT wing leaders put their people first? Ever?

George Bush jr. Heck NO! He F’d his people to the benefit of the RICH!

Everyone of them, destroyers of democracy, creators of nothing, kleptocrats all.

At least Hitler tried to address the needs of the 99% … I might not like what he did (some of it), but at least he tried.

But Sarkozy?

His name isn’t even French, it’s Polish or something.

What a joke it all is.

Apr 23, 2012 3:57am EDT  --  Report as abuse
dingodoggie wrote:
@Lord_Foxdrake, your post requires a response!
The ideas you post about Hitler and the Nazis actually are present in many people. Hitler built the Autobahn, Hitler put the people back to work… Actually what the Nazis did was a kind of Pyramid scheme – all their great deeds were built on borrowed money, huge deficits. The trick was to suppress inflation through wage and price controls.

Ignoring all other aspects of Hitler’s policies, the great economic upturn would have ended in a great bubble bursting at some point due to lack of credit. But that of course was no problem for the Nazis, because they took war into their calculations, planning to exploit the conquered European nations. Also, the expropriation of the Jewish population provided additional funds.

And the idea that the Nazis were all for the people and against the 1% is bullshit too – the 0.5% (half of the 1%) that were on their side financed the Party and profited from the war, and of course from the wage controls and destruction of Labor Unions. The Nazi movement was no purely Capitalist organisation, like the Communists used to claim, but they cooperated deeply with the Capitalist elites.

At the time, there were several British Lords who sympathized with the Nazi movement. Seems times have not changed that much…

Apr 23, 2012 4:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Lord_Foxdrake wrote:
Good points. Point of order, but no need to post twice, that said. Good points.

Don’t get me wrong I’m saying Hitler was good or great or preferable…or that he didn’t collude with the Capitalist elites.

I’m just saying that “I get Hitler!”

I “understand” a right wing candidate that puts his people back to work and builds the autobahn and does all these things …. “for the GREATER glory of the Reich.” But I “DON’T GET” a right winger like …

Mitt Romney …

Who could give a shoot (not the word I wanted to use) about the American people … well at least 99% of them and only cares about the personal gain of a rich few.

See, if MITT ROMNEY was going to…

1) Build the American Autobahn
2) Bring unemployment to > 1%
3) Drop the price of gasoline to 50 cents a gallon
4) Defect spend like crazy to pay for it all and then…

5) Invade Canada and plunder the oil sands and all of Canada’s natural resources to pay for it all…

Well, I’d understand.

Might even support him too!

I mean it’s really lousy for the Canadians and all but I have to eat and if a RIGHT WING leader is going to … consider me (which they aren’t doing at all … left or right) I’d be all for it.

Go up to Canada, take everything they have, rape, pillage plunder … whatever … sounds like a Right Wing plan I can GET BEHIND.

But I’ll be dammed if I vote for a Right Winger so he can just cut more taxes for the RICH.

“F” the rich!

Apr 23, 2012 6:08am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.