Joan of Arc was honoured this last Friday.
Nicolas Sarkozy came to Domrémy (Vosges, east of France) for the 600th anniversary of her birth. Paying tribute to her, the outgoing French president declared Joan the Maiden did not belong to any political party and she was a symbol of unity for French people, before all.
The day after, Marine Le Pen, the Front national (far-right) leader also paid tribute, with her father Jean-Marie, to Joan of Arc in front of her statue settled in the centre of Paris. She strongly criticized the Nicolas Sarkozy’s initiative, considering it as an electioneering one, in the context of the coming presidential elections.
It is maybe an accident but fate is a great provider for the president-candidate who is enjoying his position to glorify this icon of the French History, considered as a symbol and unity in the context of the international crisis.
The Le Pens’ didn’t really appreciate this tribute, Joan of Arc being the symbol of Front national, their symbol. In other words, Nicolas Sarkozy is regarded as an impostor and not as a sincere admirer of the Maiden compared to the Le Pens’ who celebrate her every year, the 1st of May.
The Nicolas Sarkozy’s tribute, although formal, has undoubtedly, some political interests. Indeed, Joan of Arc has been a far right icon since the beginning of the XX° century from Charles Maurras to Marine Le Pen. This icon clearly challenges Marianne insofar as she embodies the French identity rather than the Republic, a political regime which was hated by the royalists during a long time. Evocating Joan of Arc, the French president directly tackles to the far-right leader and candidate dealing with her ideas, as he did with Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2007. To sum up, the non-official UMP candidate wants to look up the favourite themes of the French far-right, hoping to attract his voters.
Nonetheless, such a strategy, if it perfectly worked five years ago, might fail insofar as Marine Le Pen is smarter, more strategic, cynical and has a better ready reply than his father. What is more, with this strategy, Nicolas Sarkozy might be considered as the one who is running after the far-right instead of attracting the Front national voters, which might upset the UMP voters.
Paying tribute to the Maiden, Sarkozy clearly put forward his intention to seduce a very conservative and catholic electorate more and more attempted by Marine Le Pen who scores near 20% of the votes in the poll opinions. This choice is quite surprising but not very finally. During the previous campaign, in 2007, he explicitly made a reference to Jean Jaurès and Léon Blum, former and historic socialist leaders in order to get the left voters. In 2012, he uses this strategy once again but there is no guarantee it works again.