Sarkozy draws on fear as campaign enters final days
As he faced thousands of flag-waving supporters in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Nicolas Sarkozy cast an old-fashioned presidential image, and matched the appearance with frequent references to General Charles de Gaulle, founder of both the modern French republic and of Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative party.
In reality, though, Mr. Sarkozy was fighting desperately for control of the presidency in the final moments of an election that has gone terribly awry. His televised hour-long speech on May Day, a national holiday, was one of his few remaining chances to regain the lead, along with a televised debate on Wednesday night.
Still falling several percentage points behind Socialist Party Leader François Hollande, Mr. Sarkozy was drawing on one of the few resources he commands – fear – to persuade people to vote for him.
Fear, first of all, of outsiders: Mr. Sarkozy used the speech to echo some of the rhetoric of extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose anti-immigrant National Front captured 18 per cent of the vote in first-round elections. Now that it’s narrowed to a two-way race, the President is hoping to draw some of her voters into his fold.
In this case, he reiterated his promise to bring back passport checks and border crossings, which Europe has not had for 15 years. And he suggested, darkly, that this was needed because of an existential threat: “We don’t need to close our border entirely,” he said to loud cheers, “but we want to defend a European civilization.”
Ms. Le Pen, no longer a candidate but still campaigning against the establishment, refused to indulge Mr. Sarkozy. That morning she had addressed a smaller rally of her supporters in front of the ornate Paris Opera and denounced both Mr. Hollande and, even more loudly, Mr. Sarkozy. Her speech, heavy on anti-globalization, anti-free-market and anti-European Union themes popular with her working-class supporters, invoked Joan of Arc as its role model.