European Press Review: The Quintessential Macho | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 15.01.2007
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European Press Review: The Quintessential Macho

DW-WORLD.DE takes a look at comments in European papers about the nomination of French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy as conservative candidate in the April presidential elections.

Nicolas Sakozy wants to be a president of the people

Nicolas Sakozy wants to be a "president of the people"

Sarkozy launched his campaign for the presidency at a triumphant party congress in Paris Sunday, issuing an appeal to voters of all persuasions to make him a "president of the people" at April's election.

In a speech before some 80,000 members of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Sarkozy set out the broad lines of his manifesto, promising to "reassert the value of work," restore "authority and respect" and establish a society of "obligations as well as rights."

He was speaking after results of the party's internal ballot were announced to a jubilant audience, giving Sarkozy more than 98 percent of votes cast. Some 69 percent of the party's 338,000 members took part in the ballot, whose result was a foregone conclusion as Sarkozy was the only person standing.

The 51 year-old son of a Hungarian immigrant, "Sarko" -- as he is widely called -- is the only politician who polls say can beat Segolene Royal, the Socialist contender who hopes to take over from Jacques Chirac to become France's first woman president.

"It won't be easy for him to succeed against a strong woman, who has learned to deploy softness as a weapon," wrote Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung. "Sarkozy, the quintessential macho, is usually quick and without scruples bordering brutality when he's trying to hit an opponent. His ability to punch has worked well in a political world dominated by men. It won't be of much use against Madame Royal."

Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin opined that it was time for President Jacques Chirac to rally behind his party colleague: "Sarkozy's nomination is a last defeat for Chirac, who has done everything to prevent this. But if he doesn't back Sarkozy even now, he'll only strengthen the chances of the candidate of the far-right Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen. The latter would profit directly from a clash within the conservative camp. Like his predecessors, Chirac has governed the country as a kind of ersatz monarch. That won't happen again, as neither the son of a Hungarian immigrant nor the mother of four children will be able nor willing to fill that role. Both have remained political outsiders, who will have to fight against the establishment."

"Mr Sarkozy is neither a shoo-in nor the president that France needs at such a difficult and delicate period in its history," wrote London's The Guardian. "Mr Sarkozy is an extremely divisive politician. He has his work cut out, not just to win the presidency against the left candidate Segolene Royal (who is as undivisive as Mr Sarkozy is divisive) but also to rally the right around his own cause. This will be a difficult balancing act. Mr Sarkozy is provocative and ruthless and his electoral appeal -- which combines anti-immigrant populism, middle-class social conservatism and extensive economic deregulation - does not offer a 21st-century European model that Britain should embrace. Ms Royal also offers France and Europe a break from the political past. But her socially inclusive and pragmatic approach offers her country and our continent a much more constructive and trustworthy way forward than Mr Sarkozy's."

The Times of London saw things differently. "It is now official: in their next presidential election, French voters will face a choice between Mr Sarkozy's pugnacious style and -- he promises -- uncompromising reforms, and the sweeping, sentimental generalities of Segolene Royal, the first woman to run for the Elysee Palace. It is, in essence, a choice between a long-delayed and sorely-needed dose of Gallic Thatcherism, and a romantic reaffirmation of the socialist consensus that has cosseted the French public sector for so long that even France's long-suffering taxpayers can no longer afford it. Both options are revolutionary, but the latter is revolutionary only because Ms Royal is a woman. Indeed, she has said that a win for her campaign would be a 'revolutionary gesture,' and 40 per cent of voters have apparently opined in polls that her principal strength is her gender...Mr Sarkozy, meanwhile, is walking a political tightrope. He will need the votes of many on the right who backed Jean Marie Le Pen and the National Front in 2002, and he has already signalled that he favours a robust immigration policy. But he cannot afford to lose the entire immigrant vote in the process, and has floated positive discrimination schemes in a bid to broaden his appeal. They would have helped his immigrant father, and if they help him to become President, that would help France."

And in Paris, Liberation commented: "Yes, this man is dangerous, especially for the Left. He is not the Caesar nor the Napolean that one sometimes sees in him. Elected in a referendum by a large majority of his camp, Interior Minister Sarkozy is his own master and steers the ship of modern conservatism. Energy, talent and organization have helped him to this triumph. He's got a tight grip on things and that's worrying. The danger is now well-known. A champ, who rules the media as much as himself, the state, his speech and a horrifying machinery."

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