French politics

Toulouse: a godsend for Sarkozy?

Nicolas Sarkozy, French President and UMP candidate, during the three militaries burial at Montauban (South-West of France), the 21th of March

Is the French presidential race is experiencing a turning-point? That are thinking the UMP leaders who hope taking advantage of the Toulouse and Montauban shootings – his immediate conclusion, that is to say, the Mohamed Merah’s death – although he pretends to not take this event into account.

The temptation is too strong for the outgoing president who is running for a second-term and dealing with the security and immigration issues expects to get the same success than 2007. Such themes are still favoured by the French conservatives and for which the French left was more and less bothered and accused of laxity.

Thus, Nicolas Sarkozy, during a rally on Europe at Strasbourg, put forward himself as “a protective-president”, defending the national integrity. A strategy which seems to work according to opinion poll made by CSA in which the outgoing president gets 30% and François Hollande, the socialist candidate, 28%.

The Toulouse events seem to be a godsend for Nicolas Sarkozy, became again president of the Republic, for a while. Nonetheless, will it be enough to reverse the forecasts and be re-elected for a new five-year-mandate on the next May? It’s too early to give an answer even if some elements should be put forward.

The history of the French presidential elections often showed a more and less successful unexpected event was not a guarantee of success, compulsory. In 1988, for instance, Jacques Chirac, at that time Prime minister and RPR (the ancestor of UMP) candidate managed the liberation of the last three reporters taken in hostage for three years by Christian militia during the Lebanese conflict. This liberation was made three days before the run-off but in spite of this success, Chirac was largely defeated by the outgoing president, François Mitterrand (46 vs. 54%)

Some years after, in December 1994, Edouard Balladur, François Mitterrand’s Right-Prime minister, led the GIGN (The special intervention force of the French military police) action vis-à-vis the Air France aircraft hostage-taking by Algerian Islamists at Marseille. The intervention was successful but was not sufficient for electing Balladur at the French presidency.

An external event may have an impact on an election – as the Madrid bombings attacks showed in 2004, just three days before the general elections. However, some other elements have to take into account, as internal issues for example. The 2012 presidential elections don’t infringe to this and some issues as unemployment, power of purchase and education still seem to be the major concerns of Frenchs just one month before the first round. This data should be regarded insofar as such themes still are important and should give an indication on the voters’ choice.

 Thus, the Nicolas Sarkozy strategy aiming to be as a protective-president on the security issue, following the tragedy of Toulouse is double-edged. If in 2002, this strategy perfectly worked for the French conservatives – because of a ruling Left unable to defend and assume his outcome – the situation is clearly different ten years after. Indeed, the French right is ruling the country and Nicolas Sarkozy has to defend and assume his policy. Moreover, the French socialists seem to be become more mature and the French people have other preoccupations, because of the crisis.

So, are the recent events of Toulouse really a godsend for Sarkozy? It is too early to establish an opinion. Furthermore, Nicolas Sarkozy knows he won’t behave as a protective-president and as the UMP candidate with a policy to defend both. What is more, other opinion polls seem to show that François Hollande is resisting and even in first position (according to BVA, for example, 29.5% vs. 28 for Sarkozy). At the run-off, the socialist candidate still is the frontrunner, dominating the outgoing president clearly defeated.