On the evening of 6 May 2007, a freshly elected Sarkzoy had triumphantly declared: “France is back in Europe!”
“I am making a call to our European partners with whom our destiny is tied. I believe deeply, sincerely in European construction. This evening, France is back in Europe. I urge our European partners to listen to the voice of peoples who want to be protected. To listen to the citizens who see in Europe a Trojan horse for all the threats carried by all the transformations of the world.”
At the time, Europe had only been one subject among many. Because of the crisis, it has been ever-present throughout the incumbent’s term in office. He has wanted to carry this French vision, shared by the French right and the left, that Europe must protect its citizens.
Sarkozy’s “letter to the French”, sent this month, referred to the alleged failures of Europe “which should have protected us” and which has “aggravated our exposure to globalisation”.
From 'the American' to 'the Prussian'
When he was first elected, Sarkozy earned the nickname “the American” because of his rhetoric calling to “work more to earn more,” his reduction of taxes on the wealthy, and his reintegration of France into NATO.
But over the course of the euro crisis, as he worked closely with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he for a time found a new model.
Despite certain deep-rooted differences over how the EU should function, France and Germany were able to find a common strategy, to the extent that the leading couple was dubbed "Merkozy” by the international press.
For Sarkozy, Germany was a model in numerous areas, including taxation, industry and the labour market. Policy has not been constant, however.
“It took him a long time to understand Germany’s complex federalism, the performance, the abilities to reform of the country, and the civic mobilisation of the Germans took him by surprise,” said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Fondation Robert Schuman, a pro-European think-tank.
Sarkozy learned quickly that little could be done to find solutions to the crisis without German approval, given the country’s economic power.
For Piotr Maciej Kaczyński, an analyst with the Centre for European Political Studies (CEPS) think tank in Brussels, the closeness between the two countries in the last 18 months can be explained by two factors.
On the one hand, the Germans did not want to be perceived to be the country imposing its rules on all of Europe. On the other, France sought by all means available to send a message to the markets: close to Germany, the country should not be associated with the states in very difficult situations such as Spain, Italy, Portugal or Greece.
Break with Merkel
The German chancellor formally backed the incumbent president for his re-election. The two held a joint televised interview in February, but this did not have the hoped-for result, having fewer viewers than a simultaneous interview on another channel with the centrist-environmentalist candidate Corinne Lepage (who has since withdrawn due to lack of support).
Since then, Sarkozy has taken some distance from Merkel, cancelling several joint appearances and preferring to campaign alone.
The end of the Franco-German consensus was completed with a speech on 15 April, in which Sarkozy announced in the final stretch of the campaign that the European Central Bank should be reformed.
“If we do not change Europe, if we do not create the Europe of production, of investment, we will not be able to have growth. If the Central Bank does not support growth, there will not be enough growth,” he said.
The current mandate of the European Central Bank prescribes that it be formally “independent” of political influence and that growth and job-creation are secondary objectives compared to the fight against inflation, a German obsession.
These rules are inscribed in European law since the Maastricht Treaty and are considered to be untouchable by German leaders. A journalist at La Tribune went so far as to say that “Merkozy has committed suicide”.
New nationalist rhetoric
The fundamentals of Sarkozy’s rhetoric on Europe have not changed much over five years: Europe must protect citizens against non-European immigrants, globalisation, as well as unfair trade practices.
All these themes were at the heart of his campaign-launching speech on 11 March at Villepinte. However, many were surprised by the president’s nationalist and often aggressive tone.
Over the course the campaign, the incumbent has centred his rhetoric around the nation. The “French nation is the future of France,” he said. Yet Sarkozy’s European policy in the face of the crisis has been judged positively by 50% of French, according to a poll by Opinion Way published in January.
“Europe is a subject on which the French give him some credit, but doesn’t exploit it much politically. He is in a very nationalist dynamic, looking for Le Pen’s votes,” said Olivier Ferrand, president of Terra Nova, a think tank close to the Socialist Party.
For the former president of the European Commission Jacques Delors, “Sarkozy has not been a European president, he has been an energetic president. But his energy has not always been focused where it should have been”.
Brinksmanship on the EU budget and Schengen
Sarkozy expresses in his speeches an aggressive strategy to assert France’s positions in Europe.
To save money, he has said that France will ask for a freeze in France’s participation in the EU budget and so would save €600 million per year. A sum which corresponds to real savings made thanks to inflation.
In 2010, the United Kingdom, France and Germany had already said they would ask for a freeze in the EU budget for 2014-2020, matching only the rise of inflation.
The incumbent president has since then gone a step further. But Sarkozy has not said how he will be able on the one hand to maintain to the Common Agriculture Policy’s budget “to the last euro” and on the other freeze the EU’s financing.
On immigration, the letter to the French attacks what it calls “leaky Europe”. Sarkozy is ready to suspend France’s participation in the Schengen area if the rules of free movement of persons are not revised within a year.
A measure aiming to broaden the conditions in which member states can re-establish their internal border controls has been under discussion in Brussels for more than a year.
For Sarkozy, Europe proved unable to protect its citizens but also its companies. For this reason, he has been arguing for five years for “reciprocity” in world trade. Here too, the issue has been worked on by European Commissioner for the Internal Market Michel Barnier for more than a year.
This is a very complex objective to reach and after many postponements, the European Commission ultimately made a proposal on 21 March to “encourage” the opening of international public procurement markets.
The candidate’s programme says, “If the negotiations on reciprocity do not end within a year, France will reserve its public procurement markets to European companies, until a new agreement is reached.”
This unilateral decision could entail risks for French company’s exports, which could suffer from retaliatory measures on the part of boycotted countries.
The programme also plans to “reserve a part of public tenders to Europeans SMEs, as do the United States”.
This measure was already a priority of the French president of the EU council in 2008. But this European version of the US “Small Business Act” has been the subject of long discussions in Brussels, the majority of EU countries being against it.
Yet, in this area, France cannot act alone. It is subject to EU and international rules. A report drafted by former Secretary of State for Planning Lionel Stoléru in 2007 had already indicated that the Commission would never agree to argue for quotas for SMEs before the World Trade Organisation.
A balanced budget by 2016
Budget cuts structure the candidate’s programme for the next five years. In this sense Europe, but especially the austerity targets adopted by the EU, run through the programme.
The text of 32 measures plans for additional spending cuts worth €36 billion and an increase in revenue of €8 billion to reach a balanced budget by 2016, in line with France’s European commitments.
Sarkozy has said the slightest deviation from the country’s promises would provoke a “crisis of confidence,” criticising François Hollande, who proposes balancing the budget in 2017.
To reach his objective, the incumbent president is basing himself on 0.7% growth in 2012, 1.75% in 2013 and 2% over the next four years. These forecasts are optimistic compared to those of the Commission (0.4%), the IMF (0.2%) or the OECD (0.3%).