PARIS - Less than a week before the decisive second round of the presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozys strategy is no secret: he wants Marine Le Pens voters. To that purpose, he never misses the opportunity to talk about the far right National Front partys favorite themes: identity, radical Islamism, immigration.
Last week, in an interview for the French regional press, the president-candidate made a list of his future measures concerning immigration: First of all, we need to divide the number of immigrants coming in France by two.
To decrease the influx, the right to automatic family reunification should be abolished, Sarkozy added. He then widened the debate to speak about a sieve-like Europe and an immigration that has a unique goal: to take advantage of generous European social benefits. He lumped these issues together with the burqa and halal meat debates.
Is the president's stance toughening? Not really, according to Sylvain Crépon, sociologist and an expert of the far right in France. Nicolas Sarkozy has never hesitated to seize on such themes, dating back to his arrival in 2002 as interior minister. These themes were an important part of the 2007 campaign," Crépon notes. "But back then, the National Fronts voters didn't matter as much." Le Pen's father and the party's founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, only garnered 10% of the votes during the first round, compared to 18% this time around.
But even then, as the 2007 campaign was heating up, Sarkozy brought the issues to the fore by announcing plans to create an Immigration and National Identity Ministry. Since then, Sarkozys position on immigration has hardened further. After the 2011 debate on the Schengen Agreement for open borders in Europe, when North Africans were flocking to Europe in the wake of unrest, Sarkozy repeatedly followed National Fronts ideas, until the difference between the two became smaller and smaller, Crépon explains.
If both ideologies have converged, Sarkozys ideas are still far behind Marine Le Pens. She wants the number of immigrants to be reduced by 95%, and wants to put an immediate end to family reunification and citizenship by birth. There is still a line that Nicolas Sarkozy does not cross," says Claire Rodier, a migration policies specialist, who notes that the French president would never denounce international conventions on refugees rights.
The family reunification debate is a perfect example of how such issues are used for communication purposes: automatic family reunification has never existed in France, says Violaine Carrères, a researcher at the Immigrant Information and Support Group. Family reunification has always depended on many criteria that have been hardened by Sarkozy. The two main criteria are incomes and housing.
As eager as Sarkozy seems to be to make immigration a campaign issue, his challenger, Socialist party candidate François Hollande, has made a clear effort to avoid it altogether.
Read the original story in French
Photo - European People's Party