Allez la France!

Sat, Jul 13, 2013, 01:00

Après Berlusconi, Sarkozy, peut-être? Despite findings by election auditors that his UMP party illegally overspent on his campaign, and unembarrassed by three other ethics probes, France’s former president re-emerged this week to make a first political speech since his defeat last year. Most see it as the opening of a campaign to resume his party’s leadership and nab its 2017 nomination.

A CSA poll last weekend showed 67 per cent of UMP supporters want Sarkozy as their candidate. Yet while an Ifop poll found 59 per cent of voters do not want him to run, 70 per cent expect he will do so anyway. Polls and commentators are also suggesting – the yearning for Sarkozy is not unrelated – that France is going through the worst collective depression in Europe, one that manifests a gloomy nostalgia for a safer past that probably never existed.

Unemployment at 3.2 million and economic drift, onerous taxes, Hollande fatigue, disputes over immigrants and gay marriage, political scandals from left to right, Germany envy, battles to defend France’s language and “cultural exception”. . . all will give a somewhat jaded sense to the weekend’s Bastille Day festivities.

“The French know better than their elite would like to admit that their country must come to terms with decline,” journalist Christine Ockrent writes. “Ever since the revolution they they have been taught to believe that their message is universal. Now they realise it needs translating.” Google Translate, the final straw.

François Hollande promised to revive “France’s dream”, but his man-of-the-people style, initially popular, has palled and he has failed to deliver on policies. Sarkozy’s verve and panache appear glamorous to a gloomy France that needs to shake itself out of its torpor. Your friends are worried for you.

“The French,” columnist Maureen Dowd wrote recently, “are so busy wallowing in their existential estrangement – a state of mind Camus described as ‘Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?’ – that they don’t even have the energy to be rude.” Ouch. Touché.