22, August 2016
Nicolas Sarkozy has announced he will seek his party’s nomination to stand in next year’s French presidential election. The rightwinger, who was nicknamed “the hyper-president” for his frenetic term in power from 2007 to 2012, had made no secret of his ambition to reconquer the Élysée palace and avenge his 2012 defeat by the Socialist François Hollande
After weeks of suspense in which he grabbed media headlines by presenting an increasingly hardline stance on national identity and the place of Islam in France, Sarkozy launched his campaign with an announcement on social media and a link to the first chapter of a book, Everything for France, which he will publish this week.
“The next five years will be filled with danger but also with hope,” he wrote. He listed what he said were the five major challenges facing France, including defending French identity, restoring lost competitiveness and enforcing state authority.
Sarkozy said France’s “top battle” was over how “to defend our lifestyle without being tempted to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world”.
In his fight to win his party’s nomination, the 61-year-old candidate is putting forward a platform of policies that veer even further to the far right than in 2012, when he set out to win over voters from Marine Le Pen’s Front National.
He wants to ban the Muslim headscarf from universities and public companies, limit the French nationality rights of children born to foreign parents, and Alain Juppé meaning Muslim and Jewish children would no longer be offered a substitute meal.
He has also scoffed at what he called “legal niceties” in the fight against terrorism, prompting the left to warn that his treatment of suspected jihadis could be akin to that of Guantánamo Bay.
For the first time, the French right and centre is holding an open contest to choose its presidential candidate. Anyone on the electoral register can vote if they pay €2 (£1.72) and sign a pledge saying they adhere to “the values of the right and centre”. Up to three or four million people could turn out to vote in the two-round ballot on 20 and 27 November.
Sarkozy is the challenger and not the favourite in the right’s primary race. The leader in the polls and currently France’s favourite politician is Alain Juppé the mayor of Bordeaux and a former prime minister, who served as Sarkozy’s foreign minister.
Juppé, 71, has undergone a staggering image transformation. Twenty years ago he was the most loathed prime minister in modern times after his pension changes brought 2 million people on to the streets in protest. Now he is seen as a calm, elder statesman and a moderate, pushing pro-business structural reform and less divisive on identity issues.
Sarkozy believes that the climate of fear and anxiety in France after the deaths of more than 230 people in terrorist attack claimed by Islamists in the past 19 months means the nation needs a man of authority such as himself.
One hurdle for Sarkozy beyond winning over right and centre-right sympathisers is his lasting unpopularity among the wider French population who still dislike his abrasive personality and his hard-to-shake-off label of “president of the rich”.
He must also get around his lacklustre economic record in office – he promised to restore the values of work and reward, yet left France with many more unemployed – as well as judicial investigations into party financing relating to his 2012 presidential campaign, in which he denies any wrongdoing.