Sarkozy’s return: could it save France from Le Pen?
While the left-wing parties of Greece and Spain have gone from strength to strength so far in 2015, the right has been gaining steady momentum in France.
So much was this weekend’s final round of departmental elections dominated by right-wing groups, that the 2017 election could be a very one-sided affair.
In fact, one presidential advisor is reported to have told AFP that fear is growing in the Elysée as worries that president François Hollande will not make it past the first round come the election year begin to set in.
But while Hollande and his Socialists lamented another potentially damaging public defeat, France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the UMP celebrated an incredibly successful night on Sunday, taking 65 local councils, according to the exit polls suggested.
Commenting on his party’s victory, Sarkozy said: “Tonight the Republican right and the centre have clearly won these departmental elections. Never before in the Fifth Republic has our political family achieved such a result.”
He continued: “Through this vote the French public has massively rejected the policies of François Hollande and his government.”
Sarkozy’s frank statement will have told the Socialists nothing they didn’t already know, yet it is the impact his party’s progress may have on that far right that could be much more telling.
Amid rising economical tensions in the country, Le Pen’s Front National (FN) have gained serious ground on the current government by playing on fears of immigration, the evils of the EU and by promising to hear the voice of the disillusioned working class.
Although Le Pen’s party failed to take any councils at the recent election, they did manage to win a number of seats, something which the party’s leader proclaimed was “a magnificent success”.
It seems then that former president could not have thrown his hat back into the ring at a more crucial time; the left is wilting rapidly and the right is moving forwards with conviction and purpose.
In his assessment of the FN’s recent success, Sarkozy called the party’s rise “a sign of a lasting upheaval of our political landscape” and that lessons would need to be drawn from it. These comments could be seen as a thinly veiled jibe at both opposition parties; the current government has failed to the point where even the far right are being taken seriously.
At the very least, Sarkozy has given the French people an option; his UMP party still leans to the right, but occupies much more of the centre ground, and in Sarkozy, the public know they have a man who has done it all before.
Having taken control of a party that is known for its internal conflict, the former president still has a lot of work to do before 2017, but if the latest elections are anything to go by, it is he and not François Hollande that look the most likely to stop Le Pen taking up residence in the Elysée Palace.