Paris Attacks: Sarkozy Shifts Right with Swipe at Multiculturalism

Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, FT, November 26, 2015

Nicolas Sarkozy has a plan for national recovery after the deadliest Islamist terror attacks on French soil: bring back “eternal France”.

At the centre-right opposition leader’s first political rally since Isis assailants murdered 130 people in Paris earlier this month, the former French president told supporters in Alsace, eastern France, on Wednesday, that multiculturalism is what has made western democracies vulnerable to Islamist extremists.

“France is not a supermarket, it’s a whole,” Mr Sarkozy said to the overcrowded room in the small Alsatian town of Schiltigheim. “There is no French identity, no happy identity in a multicultural society.”

For Mr Sarkozy reviving la France de toujours goes well beyond emergency powers for the police or tough border checks, as instigated by socialist president François Hollande. It means everything from fighting “cultural conformism” caused by unbridled globalisation to restoring homework, standards and discipline to schools.

Squeezed between a rebounding Mr Hollande and a resurgent National Front (FN), the anti-immigration party led by Marine Le Pen, Mr Sarkozy has opted to veer to the right. {snip}

Ten days before the first round of regional elections in which the FN is expected to make a historic breakthrough–and 18 months before the next presidential poll–Mr Sarkozy’s speech highlights his struggle to project a distinctive voice at time when the entire French political scene has shifted to the right.

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Politically, Mr Sarkozy’s party, Les Républicains, has emerged as the loser in relative terms from the Paris atrocity. The attacks have amplified fears about Islam and immigration, giving Ms Le Pen a boost.

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For the first time, a poll, by Harris Interactive, showed the socialist party beating Les Républicains and the centrists in next month’s regional elections, although the FN is projected to come first in terms of votes, with 27 per cent.

There are signs that conservative voters are shifting to the far right in enough numbers to give the FN its first ever victories in some regions–such as Provence, where Marion Marechal-Le Pen, Ms Le Pen’s 25-year old niece, is the lead candidate. Ms Le Pen is leading in Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

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But there were also sceptics about Mr Sarkozy’s identity politics.

“This ‘France de toujours’, it’s not really my thing,” said Jean-Philippe Vetter, a member of the mayoral council of Strasbourg. “There is no such thing. Generation after generation, there are always people telling us it was better before.”

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