Nicolas Sarkozy Decries âToo Many Foreignersâ in France as Presidential Election Campaign Heats Up
French economic growth is slowing, unemployment is rising, Greece is still a risk to default, and the crisis-rocked euroâwhile somewhat stabilized of lateâis still not out of the existential woods. Yet despite those burning concerns topping the list worried French voters are contemplating as they near general elections, Franceâs campaigning President Nicolas Sarkozy this week declaredÂ âthe biggest concern of French people is halal meat.â Who knew?
And not to be contradicted by polls indicating public opinion regards economic and employment issues as by far the most critical considerations in selecting its next leader, Sarkozy on Tuesday night suggested Franceâs real problem is âwe have too many foreignersâ. Sarkozyâs Hungarian immigrant father has been warned.
If all that sounds like the conservative Sarkozy imitating National Front leader Marine Le Pen, thatâs because it isâat least in the view of political analysts, pundits, and foreign observers. Many of those commentators interpret the presidentâs renewed embrace of positions dear to the extreme-right as a cynical yet desperate effort to recruit new backers to his uphill re-election bid. But while that strategy may have been vital to Sarkozyâs 2007 win, there are signs his 2012 re-do is failing to turn the rather grim re-election outlook around.
This weekâs overture to the extreme-right isnât the first time Sarkozy has sought to woo National Front (FN) voters by echoing some of their traditional themes. In his 2007 campaign, his hard line stances on crime, immigration, and restoring order to Franceâs troubled housing projects won over a large enough segment of FN backers to lift him to victory over Socialist rival SĂ©golĂšne Royal. Since taking the ElysĂ©e, Sarkozy has made similar nods to the extreme-right (and with re-election in mind) by creating a National Identity ministry, holding debates on what constitutes Frenchness, rounding up and expelling thousands of Roma, and raising questions about the place and influence of Islam in France that some Muslims equate with low-grade Islamophobia.
Indeed, Sarkozyâs comments Monday revisited what has become the hot topic of Islam on the French right. During a stump visit in Picardy, Sarkozy claimed (incorrectly, polls say) the French publicâs biggest worry is unknowingly buying and consuming meat slaughtered according to halal practices (rather than culled in the generic, industrial fashion). In doing so Sarkozy simply piggy-backed an earlier stir Le Pen had sparked with her equally false allegations that all meat sold in super markets is halalâunbeknownst to consumers. It made for much noise among the chattering classes, but was largely an ephemeral distraction to French voters mostly concerned about the economy.