Simon Heffer has called Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s interior minister, the "most exciting leader" in Europe. The Economist sees him as the anti-establishment candidate – championing "ordinary folk—but policemen, firemen and supermarket shoppers, not the farmers of yesterday’s France". BBC Online notes how he "seduces" the media: "Every French news bulletin features the man who made his mark as an authoritarian interior minister – tough on crime, and tough on immigration."
The latest profile of M Sarkozy comes in The Weekly Standard by regular FT columnist, Christopher Caldwell. Near the beginning of his piece Mr Caldwell captures the political dominance of France’s interior minister and would-be President:
"It is not certain that "Sarko," as he is called in the press, will win, but it is certain he will set the tone. To adapt a metaphor of the political scientist Samuel Lubell, he is the "sun" of the French political scene, generating all the light and ideas. The other candidates are like "moons," merely reflecting the light he gives off–agreeing with Sarko on this, disagreeing with him on that, and sort of agreeing with him on the other thing."
M Sarkozy is very unusual – for a French politician – in describing himself as "a man of the right". ‘What do you mean by that?’, Caldwell asks Sarkozy:
"First, the primacy of work…
Second, the need to compensate personal merit and effort…
Third, respect for the rules, and for authority…
Fourth, the belief that democracy does not mean weakness;
Sixth, . . . I’m persuaded that, before sharing, you have to create wealth. I don’t like egalitarianism."
And what does all this mean in practice? Caldwell:
"He intends to shrink the state, reform the profligate, bureaucratic, and job-killing "French social model," cut taxes, promote ethnic harmony (through the controversial expedient of affirmative action), normalize Islam in French society, and shore up France’s alliance with the United States. These plans amount to what supporters and detractors call la rupture. As Sarkozy told a roomful of journalists at UMP headquarters in January: "You can’t run France on the ideas of 30 years ago.""
The man escapes easy categorisation. A poll showed him outperforming Le Pen amongst traditional Le Pen supporters. He uses strong, colourful language when describing the law-breaking residents of the banlieues (the estates where last year’s riots took off) but Sarkozy has visited them much more than any of his political contemporaries. He is passionately pro-Israel and much less hostile to the war in Iraq than President Chirac. He has also worked tirelessly for France’s five million Muslims. Bringing Islam into the mainstream of French society is a big deal for him:
"Most people in France pay lip service to this idea, but Sarkozy acts on it. A great deal of the work Sarkozy has done with the two-year-old French Council of the Muslim Faith involves getting non-pork dishes into school cafeterias and arranging for Muslim burials to be allowed in municipal cemeteries."
As the right reinvents itself in various parts of the world, the progress of Nicolas Sarkozy will be as fascinating as it is likely to be eventful.