In an interview with DW-TV, Franco-German Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a leading politician for the Greens in Europe, talked about the French presidential election and the consequences for France and Europe.
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Born to German-Jewish parents in France on April 4, 1945 , Daniel Cohn-Bendit was a leader of the French student protests of 1968. He joined the German Greens party in 1984 and has been a member of the European Parliament for the German and French Greens in an alternating fashion since 1994. He is currently the co-president of the group European Greens-European Free Alliance in the European Parliament.
DW-TV: Daniel Cohn-Bendit, anyone observing the French presidential election campaign in the last few weeks could have been forgiven for thinking the winner will be the per son who can best sing the Marseillaise . Is patriotism the winner in this election?
Daniel Cohn-Bendit: Well, It's always like that during a presidential election in France. The nearer you get to the ballot, the more French identity takes center stage. But you're right; there has been some overstatement of the Marseillaise and the French flag. But that can be important when we're not just talking about the French flag, but about what color is the hand holding it.
Does that mean France is moving more to the extreme right?
France is rightwing, that's the reality. Or we might say it's conservative, structurally conservative. We saw that with the Referendum on the European constitution. You have to be aware that whoever wants to be president of France must also embody France, and that's why it plays a role. I do think the other issues are also important, though. But I admit that I find this election is like a soccer cup tie match: somebody has to win and that means the result is what matters, but the game itself is rather boring.
That means issues don't play such an important role?
They change so quickly. No single issue is paramount.
Not even France 's decline or French fear of globalization?
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No, that would last a few days. Someone would then make one remark or another and it would become the main issue for four days. But then social issues, the budget or Europe would take over -- it would take only a few days. Basically it's really an election about personalities. Is Sarkozy believable? Is Segolene Royal as a woman capable? Is Bayrou able to create a majority? They're the central questions.
According to the opinion polls we are looking at a three-way battle between Segolene Royal, Francois Bayrou and Sarkozy. Or do you think that Jean-Marie Le Pen has a chance?
There are problems interpreting Le Pen's ratings. In the last election Le Pen got 17 percent of the vote. A few days before that he had just 6. 9 percent of voters who were prepared to say they would vote for him. That's the problem with the polls. Sarkozy's strategy is to position himself so far to the right as possible so that Le Pen loses support.
Will he succeed?
Until two weeks ago I would have said: Yes. But now when you look at the trend Sarkozy is looking shaky and Le Pen once again has 15 or 16 percent. If Le Pen does very well, then that would be a serious problem for Sarkozy, because the biggest competition for votes is between Sarkozy and Le Pen. It would be a big surprise if Sarkozy was not in the second round. I don't think it's going to happen, though.
So patriotism is playing such an important role that Le Pen could suddenly do very well?
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The problem is that Sarkozy is polarizing the electorate to the right with very strange arguments. He says that if a young person commits suicide, then genetic reasons are to blame. Paedophilia and homosexuality are also genetic. Sarkozy has made a big mistake there and even the church has distanced itself from him. Sarkozy is presenting very right-wing arguments. He wants to create a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. His arguments about culture are similar to those that were made in Germany a few years ago. This is all about taking votes away from Le Pen. But it encourages people to move right because Le Pen has made it okay to discuss such things. Sarkozy has another very dangerous side: he says people should be proud of France, we're not the ones who invented the Final Solution, we're not the ones who invented genocide. He's alluding to anti-German sentiment that exists in certain conservative circles. That's very dangerous.
If he wins, will he continue in that vein?
That's the question: what will he do then? Germany and France are both in Europe. There's a German-French relationship. If Sarkozy tries to play with that he'll have problems later with people in the middle ground because they don't want that. The past history between the two countries is exactly that: it's in the past. There's a new relationship with Germany. I think it's very dangerous to throw that relationship back to 1945. It's not only playing with French society and with Europe's future, it's also endangering Sarkozy's acceptance by the French people.
Can Segolene Royal fill that gap?
Well, I think that's exactly the situation right now. Royal stands for renewal in the socialist party.
She also instituted a change in generation.
She embodies the new generation. But she's a woman and during the campaign people suddenly realized that when a woman makes a mistake it's doubly worse. There have been several examples during the campaign and people have questioned Segolene Royal's ability to be president.
Has there suddenly been a sympathy-effect for Royal?
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There has been, but in my opinion it was not enough. I think that in the second round Royal has the chance to achieve a bigger wave of support. But only for a single reason as it is with most elections: which aversion is stronger? The Anti-Sarkozy or the Anti-Royal? The election would be a choice between being anti-Sarkozy and anti-Royal. It would be a battle between two camps. One camp would be everybody who doesn't want Sarkozy and the other everybody who doesn't want Royal. That will be crucial.
What can Europe expect from a President Royal or President Sarkozy?
If he's elected, Sarkozy will quite quickly take small steps in institutional reform, basically implementing the Treaty of Nice accept with some improvements. I think Segolene Royal would be forced to bring content and institution together, meaning she would have to put more emphasis on social issues within Europe. As regards Bayrou: it would lead to a center-left coalition, if Royal wins. Bayrou is the most pro-European judging by his arguments and that's why I think a center-left government would play a positive role in the constitutional process.
Alexander Kudascheff interviewed Daniel Cohn-Bendit (win).