Trailing, Sarkozy Takes Hard Turn Right

By Erlanger, Steven | International Herald Tribune, March 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

Trailing, Sarkozy Takes Hard Turn Right


Erlanger, Steven, International Herald Tribune


President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to pull out of the Shengen pact unless the European Union provided better protection from illegal immigation.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, trailing in opinion polls six weeks before the French election, has given a rousing address to some 50,000 supporters, striking strongly conservative notes on immigration, Islam and protectionism.

In an effort to consolidate his wavering supporters for the first round of voting on April 22, Mr. Sarkozy, who has mixed apologies for his mistakes of tone and style with an aggressive turn to the right, promised again Sunday that he had "changed" and said that he had "learned" from his errors and challenges.

Trying to recreate the excitement of his victorious 2007 campaign, Mr. Sarkozy gathered his cabinet; his wife, Carla Bruni- Sarkozy; the former prime minister Edouard Balladur; Bernadette Chirac, a politician and the wife of former President Jacques Chirac; and even the actor Gerard Depardieu to hear him threaten to pull France out of the European Union's visa-free Schengen agreement unless Europe provides better protection from illegal immigration.

Mr. Sarkozy gave the Union 12 months to revise and improve its rules on the Schengen accord, or else France would suspend its membership. But if he loses the election, with the second round on May 6, Mr. Sarkozy would be gone long before his deadline.

"We cannot accept being subjected to the shortcomings of Europe's external borders," Mr. Sarkozy said, warning that illegal immigration threatened "the implosion of Europe."

France is not alone in its criticism of Schengen, however, or its desire to see European borders better policed.

Mr. Sarkozy also spoke of common French values, with an emphasis on avoiding religious exceptions favored by some Muslims. He said that French children of both genders should swim together, sit in classes together and eat the same meals in public schools, rejecting the efforts of some Muslims to separate the sexes and provide halal meals for children.

"The France you represent," he told the crowd, is "the France of Jeanne d'Arc, the France of Victor Hugo, the France of de Gaulle, the France of Robert Schuman, the France of Jean Monnet, the France of humanists." And he spoke with vaguely Nixonian references, calling his supporters "the silent majority" and condemning "intellectuals" who "sit around talking." The Socialist Party is thought to have a larger share of intellectual support than Mr. Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement.

But he also promised more aid for the heavily immigrant suburbs and said that "I have no lesson to receive from a left that abandoned these neighborhoods," though the left has been out of power for many years. …

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