Sarkozy urges French to 'take the lead' in Europe
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called upon the French to take the lead in defending the "European way of life" on Sunday in an hour-long speech at a giant campaign rally in the northern Paris suburb of Villepinte.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told supporters gathered at a massive campaign rally on Sunday that protecting Europe was vital to the future of France. In an hour-long speech, the incumbent declared that in order to save the “European way of life”, it was necessary to strengthen poorly guarded borders and give an economic advantage to European-based businesses.
Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters in Villepinte expo centre a few kilometers north of Paris, Sarkozy insisted that Europe risks a new economic crisis if it does not change. “We have arrived at a moment in which Europe must take charge of its own destiny, or risk a breakdown,” he told supporters.
Standing on a vast stage plainly adorned with one French and one EU flag, the incumbent spoke about the lessons he had learned during the past five years, but also about France’s role within Europe.
“If France does not take the lead, nothing will happen. If nothing happens, Europe will lose its place in the world. Give Europe control of its future; give France control over its destiny,” the incumbent urged.
Sarkozy has been criticized by rival candidates of forsaking France’s sovereignty by pushing for greater EU oversight and his close relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He tried to counter those charges Sunday by telling the audience that by “fighting for others, France was fighting for itself.”
Sarkozy specifically targeted the European treaty that allows the free movement of people within the Schengen borders, declaring it did not allow sufficient border control and promising to quit the Schengen accord in the next twelve months if new negotiations were not initiated.
He also called for greater commercial protectionism, urging European partners to enact legislation similar to the “Buy American Act”, in which only European-based contractors would be allowed to bid on European infrastructure projects. If no action were taken at the EU level, the incumbent warned that “France would apply this rule unilaterally.”
Sarkozy’s speech was infused with an overall sense of urgency. “Help me!” Sarkozy repeatedly called out from the stage. “We have two months to create an amazing adventure, two months to turn around all the predictions.”
Just six weeks before the first round of presidential elections, the incumbent hoped to reverse what has thus been perceived by the public as an unremarkable presidential race. Sarkozy is lagging behind Socialist Party candidate François Hollande in opinion polls and struggling to recreate the enthusiasm he built around his successful 2007 campaign.
A large number of supporters turned out for the big event. According to UMP party chief François Copé, there were 70,000 in attendance –a figure that seemed unrealistic given earlier estimates by organizers that the rally would mobilize between 30 and 40 thousand party members and sympathizers.
Before Sarkozy took the stage in the early afternoon, Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppé and Prime Minister François Fillon took turns at the podium to warm up the crowd. Fervent flag waving greeted the president with thunderous chanting of “Nicolas, Nicolas!” and “We will win!”
France on the world stage
Throughout his speech, the incumbent repeated that France had a major and unique role to play on the world stage, underlining its leadership in the international effort to topple former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“When French airplanes flew over the martyr [Libyan rebel-held] city of Benghazi, I knew then that France was honouring its history”. He then demanded the opening of humanitarian aid channels in war-torn Syria, and said that Syrian “assassins would be held accountable” for their crimes.
Sarkozy also said that France would be intransigent when it came to protecting the security of Israel, but that it would demand with “equal force” a state for the Palestinian people.
Near the end of his speech, Sarkozy tackled more domestic concerns, focusing on a ban on public wearing of the full Muslim veil which he said were “contrary to the values of the Republic.”
The president was expected to appear shortly after his speech at the Six Nation’s Cup game pitting France against arch-rivals England. Socialist candidate Hollande and centrist candidate François Bayrou were also expected to attend the rugby match.