Sarkozy Rally
Sarkozy Rally Reuters

In a speech before 80,000 party loyalists at a Paris suburb, French president  Nicolas Sarkozy made a desperate bid to turn the tide of the election campaign. He has so far failed to eat away at the double-digit lead of his Socialist opponent Francois Hollande in the polls that assess voter intentions on the runoff ballot.

Sarkozy, seeking to recapture the magic of his 2007 candidacy, blamed the failures on intermediary bodies such as the unions, the bureaucracy, the judiciary etc.,  who were preventing the implementation of policy and feared the people.

Channeling the hero of his party, Charles De Gaulle, Sarkozy appealed to the audience and to the wider French audience, promising to restore the Gaullist ideal of a direct connection between the president and the people via referendums.

This drew an immediate response from Hollande  who argued that a genuine democracy required these intermediary bodies and their rights and powers had to be recognized.

What received the most comment was a sudden turn by Sarkozy towards a Euroskeptic approach -  after the French president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had campaigned to save the euro, including the installation of a budgetary responsibility pact giving more power to Brussels.

Now Sarkozy threatens to pull France out of a Europe without frontiers because Europe had failed to check the flow of illegal immigrants. If Europe did not do something about the problem, France would have to reassert border controls. Having already declared that France had too many immigrants, many of whom could not speak English, let alone French, Sarkozy is making a play for the voters of Marine Le Pen.

The French president also accused the European Union of not doing enough to protect the continent against cheap imports, leading to unemployment and factory closures. Sarkozy promised a 'buy European' campaign modeled after a 'buy American' campaign.

Hollande has accused his rival of making Europe the whipping boy for his failures. Hollande's campaign manager, Pierre Moscovici, commented ironically "I had the impression of hearing not a French president - because a French president is one who would always construct Europe, build it and help it go forward, but rather someone who resembled a Conservative British Prime Minister."

The Socialists reminded Sarkozy hat he had rounded on Hollande as anti-European because the Socialist candidate wanted to make changes to the budgetary treaty.

Marine Le Pen, wary about Sarkozy's attempts to poach her voters, denounced him as "a person who changes his opinion as a product of public opinion polls. Why should he do tomorrow what he did not do yesterday?" She reminded the voters that Sarkozy had refused to put the issue of the European treaty to the voters

The next polls will show whether Sarkozy, via his new positions, managed to resuscitate his presidential campaign or only managed to dig himself more deeply into a hole.

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