Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Sarkozy And Le Pen
Before leaving for an EU summit, it's customary for the French president to receive the heads of the major political parties, in addition to a few other respected political figures, for a consultation at the Elysées Palace. With one notable exception. In his twelve years in office, Jacques Chirac categorically refused to meet with Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right National Front party, despite the FN's legal standing as a legitimate political formation.
So it's noteworthy that Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to meet with Le Pen tomorrow, in advance of the gathering of European heads of state to negotiate the EU's constitutional "mini-treaty". Sarkozy managed to attract a significant portion of Le Pen's followers during the presidential campaign by appropriating the FN's traditional themes of "national identity", immigration reform, and law & order rhetoric. The major question was whether this was just a clever, if cynical, electoral calculation, or whether he would attempt to maintain the new converts once in office.
Sarkozy's EU policy is diametrically opposed to Le Pen's, who advocates withdrawing from the Union. So there's little chance that the meeting is anything but symbolic. But the symbolism is significant. Chirac's one ironclad rule in politics was, "Ne jamais composer avec l'extrême droite." (Never join with the extreme right.) It was less a question of formal alliances -- which were out of the question -- than a moral dictum, a sort of political ex-communication whose logic led him to refuse to debate with Le Pen during the 2002 run-off election.
Sarkozy has obviously decided to take Le Pen off the Index. It remains to be seen if it's the first step in a progressive rehabilitation or simply a public relations move. Either way, it lends legitimacy to Le Pen and credibility to the image of a Sarkozy willing to pander to the extreme right.