French president Nicolas Sarkozy says that he is not forming a pact with the Front National to win the second round of the presidential elections in May. Sarkozy is fighting for his political survival after placing second behind Socialist Francois Hollande in presidential elections last weekend, with Sarkozy winning 27 percent to Hollande’s 28 percent. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National and the daughter of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, came in third with nearly 18 percent, the most a candidate from the far right party has ever won. Her supporters now hold the fate of the presidential election in the balance.
The FN’s strong showing was unexpected and suggests that support for the far right in Europe is significant. The Daily Mail’s Richard Waghorne had pronounced Marine Le Pen the “only responsible vote for France” in an editorial prior to the first round of the election.
Sarkozy must now convince the 6.4 million people who voted for the FN to give them their vote. He has been courting them, appealing to their concerns for radical Islam and crime, expressing his support for immigration and protecting France’s borders and emphasizing the importance of work, family and love for the homeland. The left and his own party have been criticizing him as swinging too far to the extreme right; the French media, says the Guardian, has accused Sarkozy of trampling on the cordon sanitaire that has heretofore separated the far right from the mainstream French right.
Speaking on French Info radio, Sarkozy said that he is not considering appointing members of the FN to cabinet positions as there are too many issues that he disagrees on with them. The FN has called for France to leave the euro and to hold a referendum on the death penalty. But Sarkozy still said that “I refuse to demonize the men and women who in voting for Marine Le Pen cast a crisis vote.”
Front National Seeks Parliamentary Seats in France
The FN currently does not hold any seats in France’s parliament. On Wednesday, the party announced that 22-year-old Marion Le Pen, a granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, will be running for MP in Carpentras, the southern town where the FN received its highest success in the presidential election. The majority of the far right’s support is in rural areas that are less populated.
Current polls say that 50 to 60 percent of FN members say they will vote for Sarkozy in the second round of elections on May 6. As the New York Times notes, Marine Le Pen’s supporters remain suspicious of Sarkozy, seeing him as the “embodiment of a corrupt elite disconnected from social and economic realities” and deeming his efforts to win their votes as simply political calculation.
A Backlash Against Austerity
Sarkozy’s poor showing in the election has also unleashed a simmering rebellion against “austerity first” as the solution for Europe’s ongoing budget crisis and four years of recession. Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel have led the calls for such; Sarkozy losing the election would mean the end of the “Merkozy” partnership and its program of “austerity first.”
Hollande, says the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt, has “set himself up as the champion of growth” and indicated that he will not follow Germany’s lead. Hollande has called for a renegotiation of the pact that the eurozone agreed on last December according to which member nations’ budget deficits must be no more than 3% of their GDP by 2013. His calls for a “different kind of Europe” are seen as saying that German leadership has failed in solving the economic crisis and “that it is up to the French to steer Europe in a different direction.”
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