Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Now Sarkozy ruffles feathers in Madrid as the election battle hots up

Just like Manchester City after Mikel Arteta’s booming 87th minute strike yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy is staring down the barrel of defeat. If the latest polls are to be believed, socialist rival Francois Hollande is pulling clear. Now Carla Bruni’s diminutive husband is trying to fight back. His latest tactic? Breaking his long-held solidarity with fellow EU nations by criticising Greece and, more contentiously, Spain.

A lot to ponder
Sarkozy sounded a cautionary note to voters against the socialists' economic model, heaping blame on “seven years of socialist government” for Spain’s current problems. It was a direct stab at the tenure of prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero between 2004 and 2011, which met with a cold reception in Madrid even among the conservatives.

The socialist PSOE, formerly headed by Zapatero, immediately pointed to Sarkozy’s own credentials, highlighting France’s high public debt. The new conservative Finance Minister, Luis de Guindos, dismissed Sarkozy’s remarks as mere campaigning and branding the comparisons with Greece “unjust”.

Sarkozy may have a point. Spain’s economy is hardly in rude health – its national debt still sits above €15000 per capita. But singling out a fellow EU member as an object lesson in economic mismanagement is surely a step too far, particularly in the current climate. Never in its 54-year history has the EU needed to be more unified. With eurozone break-up still possible and the IMF reluctant to step in with bailout money, political infighting is the last thing Europe’s leaders should be doing.

With the elections now imminent and the final push for votes underway, it seems Sarkozy is feeling the pressure from Hollande. His PR team has been in overdrive during the last few weeks and Sarkozy has hit out at his socialist rival at every opportunity.

His most recent piece of rhetoric was a 34-page document simply titled “letter to the French People”, which tried to show solidarity with his people whilst asserting his presidential gravitas. It even began with a hand-written note extolling his brand of (nauseating) patriotism: “my dear compatriots, there is nothing more beautiful than love for one’s country.”

But his patriotism was more decorative garnish, masking the document’s true agenda with a layer of populist jingoism. The majority of the letter was devoted to criticising Hollande’s policies rather than offering anything new or constructive. But the reductive politics of sniping at rivals is classic Sarkozy.

His tactic of outlining his politics via letter is also nothing new. In his bid for re-election in 1987 the socialist President Francois Mitterrand drafted a similar document addressed to the French people with exactly the same name. His goal was to build an image of him as experienced and trustworthy, almost avuncular, positioning himself above the cheap political point-scoring of his rival Jacques Chirac.

But the glaring irony of Sarkozy’s tactics will not be lost on the socialists. The fact that he, the enemy of everything Mitterrand stood for, is now changing tack and trying to imitate the former president, will probably leave the socialist ranks tittering with laughter.

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