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Politics

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les cinq clés d’une prise de pouvoir

by Grégory Marin, Rosa Moussaoui, Ludovic Tomas

The Five Keys to Sarkozy’s Rise to Power

Translated Wednesday 16 May 2007, by Emma Paulay

Deciphering. The first part of our study: How Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded in winning a majority by taking on an unashamedly hard-line right-wing project.

He presented an openly right-wing project

“The right has apologised for being right-wing for too long”, Nicolas Sarkozy explained over and over again to the newly seduced UMP militants who joined the party as soon as he took it over. As soon as he became candidate for the presidency, the UMP leader began addressing the right in terms that had been “captured”, according to him, by the extreme right: nation, national identity, immigration but also respect, morals, merits…The words of a “no-complex right” which never ceased to defend its heritage.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposals marked the return of right-wing fundamentals. The candidate claims to have updated the “work ethic”, but in proposing to "work more to earn more” he has resuscitated the 19th century image of Epinal, that of the lazy worker. Despised by the poorest French people, he flattered the middle-classes by saying: “[Let’s] restore to favour the revenue earned from work rather than from state-aid”. The topics are carefully chosen and so are the words. By dressing up his reactionary proposals in a “social” tone concocted by one of the theorists of the “social divide”, Henri Guaino, who did not hesitate to pepper the candidate’s speeches with references to Jaurès or Blum (1), Nicolas Sarkozy achieved the feat of uniting his side. He managed to gain votes both from the partisans of “moral order” supposedly abandoned by the right, as well as from a large section of the working-class by playing on their desire to ’better’ themselves.

Europe, globalisation: He presented a misleading voluntarism

The takeover bid was successful for the man who, during the 2005 referendum campaign, advocated an explosion of the French social model in the name of adaptation and modernization. Analysing the vote of 29 May 2005 - when the French voted “No” to the European Constitution - as an expression of a social anguish in the face of globalization, the UMP candidate played on two registers to turn this electoral upset to his favour.

Act one: playing up voluntarism in the face of economic procedures presented as being out of the realm of political choices. Hence his supposed refusal as of November 2006 to “preach in the name of globalization the resignation of all those whose living and work conditions have worsened in the last 25 years. There is no question of him publicly singing the praises of a “happy globalization” as does Alain Minc. Nicolas Sarkozy did not hesitate, on the contrary, to adopt a protectionist attitude, to denounce de-localizations within Europe and pretend to attack the European Central Bank, which he accused of having a “monetary policy that does not pay enough attention to growth and unemployment.” As for the European constitution, the UMP boss even took the liberty of telling a brazen lie. “The French have decided, there will be no question of resuscitation”, he assured. Nevertheless, in July he intends to have a “mini treaty”, which will retain the substance of the original, ratified in Parliament. This will give him a free hand in subsequent negotiations with the other EU leaders. His position has paid off in the short term. It remains to be seen how in the future, Nicolas Sarkozy will manage the contradiction between this stance and the programme of destruction of all the obstacles to free and undistorted competition which is so dear to the neo-liberals.

Act two of this major hijack: the operation which claims the “no” to the European constitution to be a symptom of a “national identity” crisis which has opportunely replaced, in the UMP candidate’s reasoning, a social crisis seriously worsened by five years of right-wing policies. Within this notion, migrants, those useful scapegoats, are implicitly designated as a threat to the cohesion of French society. The CAC 40 (2) shareholders and the investment fund managers can peacefully continue to suck the blood of the French economy before they set up their businesses elsewhere.

He cultivated the myth that “if you really want to, you can”

The lengthy economic and social crisis that France has been up against for several decades has led to a damaging breakdown in confidence in the fundamental principles of redistribution, social solidarity and the fight against inequality. A confidence breakdown which Nicolas Sarkozy skilfully manipulated to promote his society of homeowners, of each to his own, based on the “merit, work, effort” three-pronged slogan. Based on a deceitful dramatization, to the say the least, of the UMP leader’s own life-story, the Sarkozist slogan “if you really want to, you can”, was echoed in a society where the search for individual solutions has slowly taken the upper hand over collective ones. Refusal of “assistance”; the idea that one should “work more to earn more”; the aspiration to pay less tax and contribute for oneself, not for others; promotion of personal property instead of public property and services...

Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign was only the glorification of personal responsibility and a total denial of the existence of social mechanisms that produce inequality. Even doing badly at school is, according to him, due to insufficient “discipline”, “work” and “effort” on the part of pupils. Nicolas Sarkozy’s theoretical base is the adoption of the postulate of the pope of liberalism, Friedrich Hayek, for whom social justice is a “mirage”. Sarkozy resumes true justice by the phrase, “to each according to his efforts”. A postulate which has already borne political fruit for the new President of the Republic: he persuaded a majority of French people that through their own individual will-power they could be on the winning side in the economics game.

He accounted for the expectations of the extreme right wing

The strategy of the UMP candidate was clear before he officially began his campaign. Nicolas Sarkozy’s reaction to the shock wave of 21 April 2002 (3) has always been to take Jean-Marie Le Pen’s electorate under the wing of the parliamentary right, rather than to counter the National Front’s arguments. As soon as he became Interior Minister, the mayor of Neuilly started work on building a political stance which backed up the National Front’s ideas: suspicion of foreigners and of those in need, priority to repression instead of prevention and social accompaniment, reinforcement of security, stigmatization of young people from working-class neighbourhoods.

Whilst giving the impression of being a man of action breaking away from the so-called naïve optimism, he continued his ideological attack. Designating the good and the bad French people, glorifying nationalist feelings, bringing back to favour the ideas of social determinism and eugenics, giving a personal interpretation of French history in the name of a refusal to “repent”, the Sarkozy method was to convince the Le Pen voters that he was the one who could apply an unashamedly right-wing programme based on national identity, merit, work, authority and morals. It is not surprising therefore, that two-thirds of the Le Pen electorate transferred their vote to Sarkozy in the election run-off. This phenomenon was even more evident in towns in which the National Front had registered its highest scores.

He wrote off his term in office

Did the French really get rid of “old generation politics”? If you listen to some Sarkozy sympathisers you get the overriding impression that his rise to power is a break with the last two governments. The rejection of the European Constitution Treaty on 29 May 2005 was partly due to the politics of Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s government. As his successor continued the same reforms, the feeling of social injustice grew. But Nicolas Sarkozy, despite having been Minister of the Interior twice, as well as Minister of the Economy, managed to shrug off any responsibility. Not wanting to be the one with a past term to defend, the ex-Minister systematically minimized his involvement in the government. Except, that is, as far as security was concerned, thanks to his manipulated statistics: in “the 5 years of Jacques Chirac’s term, delinquency decreased by 10%”, he stated during the debate with Ségolène Royal between the two election rounds. But Nicolas Sarkozy did better than that: at the same time as he presented himself as the “break with the past” candidate, he included Jean-Pierre Raffarin as a member of his commercial campaign team and vowed allegiance to Dominique de Villepin…all without his voters seeing the link between him and the preceding governments.

(1) Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) a French Socialist leader and one of the first social democrats. Léon Blum (1872-1950) French Socialist , Prime Minister 3 times.

(2) French stock market index

(3) 21 April 2002 - The National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, qualified for the run-off in the presidential elections, against Jacques Chirac.


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