Sarkozy sets out his stall

The French president will tack right to head off the threat of Marine Le Pen.

Nicolas Sarkozy is due to announce officially that he will run for the French presidency again next week. But in an interview today with the right-leaning newspaper Le Figaro he sets out the main themes of his campaign. As Alexandre Lemarié argues in Le Monde, those themes are designed to appeal to voters tempted by the Front National's Marine Le Pen, who could threaten Sarkozy's participation in the second and decisive round of the presidential election in May.

Here is some of what he said.

Work and responsibility

  • "After five years as president, I am more convinced than ever that work must be rewarded. It's not a question simply of saying that you have to work to succeed - that's obvious - but that work is a value in itself, necessary to the accomplishment of the individual and to social cohesion."
  • "I would say the same about responsibility. It is what gives freedom its meaning. One is free to the extent that one is responsible - to oneself and to others. So I see responsibility as the indispensible accompaniment to freedom. Freedom without constraint or limit, freedom as the principle of a society in which everything is permitted and in which one doesn't have to account for oneself, is not a value I identify with."

The French economy and competitiveness

  • "What is most harmful in our system is its authoritarian character, its disconnection from the day-to-day running of businesses."
  • "If, in a given business, the employees and the boss agree on the terms of employment, salaries and flexibility, then their agreement should be authorised by law and take precedence over invididual contracts. This is the choice we've made with [Prime Minister] François Fillon, and it's what has allowed the Germans to succeed to a great extent in their struggle against unemployment. This new flexibility will benefit the French economy as well as employees, who will benefit from an increase in competitiveness."

Gay marriage

  • "I'm not in favour [of gay marriage]. In 2007, I proposed civil partnerships. We didn't bring them in because we realised that it was unconstitutional to reserve such partnerships for homosexuals alone. The notion of a civil partnership threatens the institution of marriage ... In these troubled times, I don't think it is wise to sully the image of this essential social institution [marriage].

National identity

  • "I say to the French people: be proud of your country; we have values; we are like no other people; we must continue to welcome foreigners, but those whom we welcome must love our country. It's for those who arrive here to assimilate our rules - it's not for republican principles to adapt to them. We have been able to integrate earlier waves of migration into the republican melting-pot because the new arrivals had cultural and religious attachments close to ours. More recent immigration is different."
  • "France has made considerable efforts to create places of worship in order that everyone feels that their differences are being acknowledged. But equally, limits have to be fixed. In 2008, I explained that the burqa or the niqab should be banned. I also asked that prayers in the street be curtailed, because, in a secular state, other citizens shouldn't have to see that."
  • "France has Christian, or Judeo-Christian, roots. That is a historical reality that it would be absurd to deny! Look at the churches and cathedrals that cover our country. France was born out of the meeting between the will of kings and that oif the Church. Joan of Arc, the 600th anniversary of whose birth we've just celebrated, was born at the crossroads of that double will. Saying that doesn't imply that one belongs to a church, nor that one is any less committed to the values of the Republic or the principles of secularism. Let's not cut France off from part of its history."

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.