Less than one week following his confirmation to stand as a candidate in the presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy held his first big ‘meeting’ on Sunday 19 February in Marseilles marking the culmination of a series of actions that are surely indicative of the fervour with which the incumbent President intends to fight for another 5 years at l’Elysée.His first week of campaigning saw him travel the country meeting up with citizens to explain his actions thus far and his plans for the future. There can be no doubting the meticulous planning that lies behind this entrée en campagne as evidenced in particular by Sarkozy’s enhanced facebook profile, his entrance into the twittersphere and the launch of his very slick website. His campaign slogan is ‘La France Forte’ and no one can deny that the early signs are that he intends to lead a strong campaign also.
So what of his first major speech as candidate? In a little under an hour Sarkozy regaled an assembled 15,000 supporters (with a heavy emphasis on the presence of jeunes militants) on a wide range of topics; from his love of France to the question of immigration and identity, from the necessity for a return to traditional values to the need for truth, all the usual Sarkozy rhetoric was on show. It was however his consistent reference to the crisis throughout his speech that provides some indication of just how this issue will be central to his campaign and the campaign in general.
Just six minutes into his speech, Sarkozy opened a relatively lengthy section on the issue starting with the suggestion that France had resisted the worst of the crisis. He accepted that mistakes had been made along the way but claimed that a catastrophe had nonetheless been avoided. He went to great lengths to highlight just how serious the situation became, just how close France had been to the brink, insisting repeatedly that no-one should underestimate or deny just how bad things were. His depiction of the precariousness of the global financial system was underscored as such so that he could highlight how well France (under his stewardship) had weathered the storm. For those in doubt or in denial, Sarkozy asked them to consider the predicament of the Greeks, the Italians, the Spanish, the Portuguese and even the Americans; the intimation being that his actions had saved France from the difficulties faced in these nations (violence, massive (youth) unemployment, collapsed housing market, etc).
He went on to claim that he had demonstrated the courage to stand up to the crisis and he asked the electorate to think carefully about this when choosing the next President. Understanding the crisis, he claimed, helps make sense of his first term as president and why he has perhaps not fulfilled all of what was expected from him. Understanding the crisis, he claimed, underscores the necessity of the difficult decisions he has taken thus far (pensions, civil service cuts, etc). Understanding the crisis, he claimed, helps appreciate the key role of France (thus him) in helping tackle the Euro crisis. The focus on such elements is revelatory of Sarkozy’s strategy of using the crisis to explain what has (or has not) happened under his leadership thus far but also how he intends to use the crisis to persuade the electorate that he is the ideal candidate for the future.