April 22 at 8:00 p.m., Paris time. Each and every person sat in disbelief as they discovered that in France, the land of Freedom and Human rights, 18% of voters had chosen the far-Right candidate.
In the last week, both the French and international press have struggled to understand the outcome of the first round of the French Presidential election. Some have called it a "rise in populism," others wrote that millions of French people now subscribe to the ideas of the far-Right. Some claim candidate Sarkozy's campaign took a "hard-right turn," pandering to the National Front.
I reject these analyses.
France is not a racist country. Racism and xenophobia are contrary to our identity. The French have always had a visceral connection to respect for others, to welcoming the stranger and to equality. These are values that are deeply anchored in our collective subconscious. And this election will not change that. I am not looking to give justifications or reassurances, only to reestablish what's true.
In the first round, we were witnesses to a "crisis" vote, a vote whose purpose was to send a signal to the entire political class. This was not a vote of support for the appalling ideas defended by both Le Pens, father and daughter, nor was it a vote of hope.
What the French want in this time of crisis is to be protected. Just like the Americans, just like all people who today are experiencing the consequences of a violent crisis, which is first global and then national.
The signal has been received loud and clear. And together with Nicolas Sarkozy, our mission is to respond in a precise and targeted way in view of the 2nd round on May 6.
This commitment is not only in keeping with Nicolas Sarkozy's record as President, but also with his campaign.
I have known him for the past 10 years. I was his advisor, his spokesperson, his Justice Minister. Today, I am an elected member of his majority and I am actively involved in his campaign. Nicolas Sarkozy is a statesman. He is profoundly humane. He has never lost touch with the people and their demands, which is nowadays a rare virtue in politics. It has always been his ambition to protect them.
In this campaign, only three candidates spoke to the French people about protecting them: Marine le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Nicolas Sarkozy.
While the first two made some good diagnoses of the situation in France and Europe, the solutions they proposed were neither adequate nor republican.
Marine le Pen wants to isolate France. She has promised the French people an autarky, a France that would no longer welcome anyone and a France that would champion trade protectionism. We can forget about our fundamental values, our competitiveness and our jobs! Her platform is one of cultural, moral and economic decline for France in the name of a sickening ideology. It is an anti-French platform.
On the other extreme, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has resurrected a "far-Left" that we thought was dead and buried. 11% of voters chose the candidate who promised to revolutionize and dismantle the system. But taking France apart is not the solution.
Nicolas Sarkozy has an undeniable advantage: his unwavering desire to protect the French people. His record speaks for itself: he has preserved French spending power and social welfare, without diminishing the greatness of France. Not a single retirement pension was lowered, nor was the salary of any public employee cut. Unemployment has grown at a much slower rate than in other European countries. Meanwhile, through an effective cut in spending, France's public deficit is being reduced more quickly than projected. His sole ambition is to shift into high gear to sustainably reinvigorate growth, to prevent our jobs from being lost to globalization. And he seeks to defend the idea of "Made in Europe," like your "Made in the USA," without falling into the trap of a destructive form of protectionism.
Nicolas Sarkozy's ambition is to give a new meaning to the idea of "Nation," and therefore to borders. We have a lot to learn from Americans in this area: the people of the United States, speaking as one and beyond partisan divides, have always affirmed and valued the greatness of the American nation, the pride of being an American. This authentic form of patriotism is not used to exclude anyone. Today these values are admirably defended by Barack Obama and his administration. We want nothing more than this for our country.
We simply want to say that today we live in a new world, where France and Europe are facing challenges and pressures from beyond our borders, both migratory and commercial challenges which would be all too easy to ignore.
On immigration, Nicolas Sarkozy's position is in no way shocking. On the contrary, he wants to act responsibly by not welcoming too great a number of immigrants at a time when those already living in France -- whether French citizens or legal immigrants -- have to deal daily with the effects of the crisis, such as the difficulties of finding work, or housing. Controlling immigration also means tackling illegal immigration at European borders. And in doing so, we are not acting against immigrants, but against criminal organizations and people smugglers. It means demanding that countries who are acting in a lax manner at Europe's external borders be more efficiently sanctioned.
His position on international trade is that we are veering dangerously towards Europe becoming a sieve, a Europe that loses out in the global economy. Europe has opened its markets and faces difficulties in acceding to some of its major trade partners' markets. Nicolas Sarkozy is calling for reciprocity. This is the intention behind the Buy European Act that he will be proposing to the European Union, modeled on the Buy American Act you have had in place for years; like the Small Business Act which will dedicate 20% of public contracts to our small businesses. We care too much about Europe to allow it to veer off course in this way. Nicolas Sarkozy is confronting Europe with its responsibility to protect European jobs and competitiveness. What is so shocking about that?
The left-wing candidate, on the other hand, is continuing with a platform that is completely out of sync with what voters expressed at the polls. He seems to think everything is fine. He acts as if France was not currently facing an economic crisis and had no integration problems. He is proposing amnesty for illegal immigrants on a massive scale, condemning them to a precarious life. He is obsessed with public spending at a time when we need to focus on the essentials. He is putting our jobs at risk, in industries threatened by relocation, by adding to the existing burden of labor costs. This is not a platform for France; it's a platform driven by personal ambition.
I am convinced that this is the beginning of the end for a candidacy who has failed to rouse passion or enthusiasm. The French that voted for François Hollande are those who have always voted Left, and many felt they had no choice if they were to remain true to their values. The truth is that they know full well that François Hollande has neither the qualities, nor the experience, nor the vision to effectively protect France.
Today, we believe more than ever that Nicolas Sarkozy will be reelected. France is now at a crossroads: one road leads to economic and moral bankruptcy under François Hollande; the other leads to growth, jobs, competitiveness, greatness and the pride of being French. This is the France Nicolas Sarkozy is proposing. This is the way forward I'm sure the majority of French people will choose on May 6.
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