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Monday, 22 September 2014

Back to the future - with Nicolas Sarkozy

The former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, took to television on Sunday evening to win over the hearts of the nation and explain why he felt an obligation and "a duty" to run for the leadership of the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement).

Watching Sarkozy as he answered anchor Laurent Delahousse's questions, it was more than a little difficult not to be struck by the resemblance he seemed to bear to his puppet on the satirical show on Canal + "Le Guignols de l'info".

Laurent Delahousse and Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot France 2 interview 21/09/2014)

There were all the familiar shoulder-heaving, head-bobbing, twitching mannerisms which make him so easy to caricature.

And they were accompanied with the unforgettable "iron fist in a velvet glove" (for want of a better idiom) verbal style with which, for example, he attacked François Hollande after saying he didn't want to "waste time criticising his successor".

"He (Hollande) has spent two years demolishing what we accomplished," he said.

"M. Hollande seems to want to think of me as a "bad" person. I simply don't think about him."

So that's the superficial impression. It was TV after all, and Sarkozy is a proven master of communications and image.

But what about the substance? What did Sarkozy actually say...that was any different to what he has said in the past? And what concrete measures did he present for transforming the party and of, course, the country?

Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot France 2 television September 2014)

Well...there was the  use of the referendum as a political tool to let the people have their say.

"It's the key," he said.

Putting aside the relative merits or not of the idea, wasn't that part of his campaign pledge in 2007?

And the need for some changes to the Schengen agreement (which allows its signatories a borderless Europe)  - without outlining exactly what apart from admitting that "I should have said before that in its current state Schengen is not functioning as it should"  - a theme throughout his failed 2012 campaign.

Other than that, not very much, other than the broadest of brushstrokes about the need to bring people within his political family together, provide an alternative to the current government's policies and prevent the prospect of France becoming completely isolated.

Over 8.5 million people apparently tuned in for the 45-minute interview  - proof perhaps that Sarkozy leaves few indifferent.

And some - in particular his two declared adversaries for the leadership battle, Bruno Le Maire and Hervé Mariton - might have found it odd that Sarkozy was given so much air time to make his pitch as a candidate.

Only this is French politics where defeated candidates never seem to fade away gracefully after losing but reappear again and again and again.

And as much as Sarkozy might have wanted those viewing to believe that the interview was ostensibly about the UMP leadership battle, the real focus surely was and remains the 2017 presidential election campaign.

In case you missed it, here's the full interview.


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