Sarkozy chooses dishonour

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Anti-immigration measures may come back to haunt French President NicolasSarkozy, writes Dominique Moïsi, author of The Geopolitics of Emotion.

The following contribution is authored by Dominique Moïsi, author of 'The Geopolitics of Emotion'.

"'Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonour. They chose dishonour. They will have war.' Winston Churchill's famous denunciation of the delaying tactics of the British and French on the eve of World War II should be a warning to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In fanning vicious anti-immigrant passions for short-term political gain, he will have dishonour first and then defeat. For, although a majority of French today may be inclined to sympathise with Sarkozy's immigrant-bashing rhetoric, there is no guarantee that they will re-elect him in 2012.

It is not so much Sarkozy's performance as president that most Frenchmen reject; it is his essence. At a time of rising unemployment, with France dominated by fears about the future, the French need a reassuring father or mother figure, not a jittery and manipulative leader ready to compromise ethics and France's proud tradition that every citizen is entitled to equal treatment under the law.

Former Prime Minister Michel Rocard did not mince words about Sarkozy's recent proposals to strip foreign-born French nationals of their citizenship if convicted of threatening the life of a police officer, practicing polygamy, or female 'circumcision'.

'One has not seen such measures since the Vichy regime or since the Nazis,' Rocard declared. Equating Sarkozy with Marshal Pétain's collaborationist Vichy regime is, of course, an exaggeration, but Rocard's concerns are shared by many French – and not only intellectuals and pundits.

Even among traditional conservatives, there is a whiff of ethical disgust at Sarkozy. Can the French really violate their values to such an extent? Will re-introduction of the death penalty be the next step on this populist downward spiral?

Two years, of course, is a long time in politics, and any predictions today about the presidential vote in 2012 would be imprudent. Yet few analysts today would bet on Sarkozy's re-election.

He proved to be a great candidate in 2007, but he was also running against a particularly weak Socialist contender, Ségolène Royal. In 2012 it is unlikely that a Socialist Party 'starved for power' will commit electoral suicide once again by nominating an unelectable figure.

Could France today be like the France of 1980 on the eve of the Left's first victory since the establishment of the Fifth Republic? Will Dominique de Villepin, the flamboyant former prime minister under Jacques Chirac, be to Sarkozy what Chirac was to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1981?

Chirac, it should be recalled, guaranteed the defeat of Giscard d'Estaing by dividing the Right so bitterly that it proved impossible to reunite behind Giscard in his final-round confrontation with François Mitterrand."

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(Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.)

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