French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for tougher borders and a stronger national identity on Sunday and accused the left of petty slander as he struggled to catch up with his Socialist rival a week before a presidential runoff.
Sarkozy, who lags his centre-left challenger Francois Hollande by 10 points in opinion polls for the May 6 vote, hammered home a message aimed at the nearly one-in-five far-right voters whose support he needs to win a second term.
In a speech in the southern city of Toulouse, which was shaken in March when an Islamic gunman went on a shooting rampage, the conservative Sarkozy used the word “border” dozens of times as he stressed that love of one’s country should not be confused with “dangerous nationalist ideology”.
“Without borders there is no nation, there is no Republic, there is no civilisation,” Sarkozy told some 10,000 supporters. “We are not superior to others but we are different,” he said.
Under fire from members of his own political camp for a lurch to the right over the past week, Sarkozy seemed, however, to focus solely on those voters as he criticised Europe for being unquestioningly dedicated to free trade.
“In 2007, the issue was work. In 2012, the issue is borders and I will put them at the centre of the debate,” he said.
With two-thirds of French telling pollsters they have a negative view of him, Sarkozy is the most unpopular incumbent to seek a second term and the only one to lose a first-round vote after Hollande beat him by just over one percentage point.
Sarkozy needs about 80 percent of Le Pen voters behind him to win, but surveys show only 44-60 percent plan to back him.