Claude Guéant and France’s continuing slide to the far right under Nicolas Sarkozy

“All civilisations, all practices, all cultures, in light of our republican principles, are not equal.” – Claude Guéant, French Interior Minister, 4 January 2012

Coming from a fervent defender of tolerance, openness, women’s rights, gay rights and the like, there’s nothing wrong with the statement that certain cultural values found in Western society are superior to intolerant views held elsewhere. It’s something I’d certainly agree with – while I’m no Huntingtonite neocon, I’m certainly not a believer in cultural relativism, and do think that European society has it right on most of the key cultural issues that concern people’s daily lives.

Coming from Claude Guéant, however, such a statement is nothing but dogwhistle politics, designed to attract xenophobic support from the far right for the extremely shaky reelection bid of incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

It’s not the first example of Guéant’s attempts to play on the hatred of foreigners – and especially Muslims – that festers in the hearts of so many French citizens. Guéant is an expert in such divisive politics – and Nicolas Sarkozy’s right hand man when it comes to law and order, immigration and a whole host of other topics, not to mention his main emissary to the far right electorate.

It was Guéant who said in May 2011 that “Contrary to popular myth, it is untrue that we need the talents and skills that immigrants possess.” It was he, also, who said that same year that France only wanted “nice” immigrants. But above all, he brought in strict new rules on work permits for young foreign graduates – the famous “Guéant circular” about which I’ve written a couple posts – that made it near impossible for non-European students to stay in France after graduation.

As Françoise Fressoz of Le Monde pointed out on her blog today, a new IFOP-Journal du Dimanche poll showed incumbent right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy and left-wing challenger François Hollande neck-and-neck at 33% in a hypothetical election where far right candidate Marine Le Pen fails to qualify for the presidential ballot (not at all impossible). What this has reaffirmed for the French right is that the solution to its problems is to continue to appeal to the xenophobes on the right in the hopes of mobilising and galvanising its electorate and beating extremely low expectations in the April/May presidential election.

This is why, says Fressoz:

Guéant has attacked the left for ‘not participating in the vote on banning the wearing of full veils’ and in recounting a left-wing politician’s ‘assurances that ‘street prayers do not bother anyone’…

The offensive is clearly directed against Islam. It has a dual objective: flirting with Le Pen’s electorate while Marine Le Pen is weakened by her uncertain quest to qualify for the ballot [in France, 500 signatures from local elected officials are required to qualify for the presidential election] and destabilising the Socialist Party whose leader, François Hollande, took up the theme of the “Republic” at his 22 January speech at Le Bourget… in Claude Guéant’s eyes, socialists do not know how to defend secularism.

And, says Fressoz, it will only worsen in the coming weeks and months as the presidential race identifies. But more than mere electoral politics, the French centre right has been eclipsed by a more strident, less politically correct ‘new right’ – echoing both Thatcher and Berlusconi, Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP no longer cares about political niceties and consensus politics. It’s learnt from its European neighbours that appeals to people’s worst instincts generally pay in politics. That’s why it’d be so nice to see Sarkozy, Guéant and all those around them suffer defeat in May of this year. Cowardly politics that fuels hatred and resentment is the last thing that France needs right now.

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5 thoughts on “Claude Guéant and France’s continuing slide to the far right under Nicolas Sarkozy

  1. Well, we’ve got a nazi interiour minister.

    Actually, I don’t think it’s a measure to upgrade chances for re-election since this politics began a year ago. It’s more like the Third Reich in 1944 giving priority to trains with prisoners over military.

    (Yes, I’m back. I criticized you about one thing you should not have whritten, but I’m no longer interested in “duelling” someone who does not understand what it’s about)

    1. Oh, haha, it’s you again! Hurrah! You never explained why you challenged me to a duel before – I think you just didn’t understand my article – but anyway, I think you’re perhaps being a bit extreme with regards to Guant, though I certainly can’t stand the guy.

  2. Hi Evan,

    I couldn’t agree more with your post. I am ashamed of this statement, and the ones made before by our interior Minister.
    As you said, I don’t think anyone could argue against the fact that some practices go against international human rights and therefore are condemnable. But it is scary to see the center right leaning towards the extreme right.
    What is even more shocking, despite the fact that Guéant probably believes in what he said, is that he said it in front of a class full of students. Full of flexible, ductile minds. Is that what French students are taught these days? How to see foreigners as a threat, as intruders who come to mess with our rights and advantages?
    I find it sad that such groundless hatred has made its way into the right wing party and, let’s be honest, into a lot of French citizens’ minds.
    I have written a blog post about it as well and I would love to have your opinion on it!
    http://theartofconflict.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/at-heart-of-french-presidentialcampaign.html

    1. Good piece! Thanks for sending me the link. I think that we’re both generally in agreement – that Guant’s comments can be understood both as a defence of Western tolerance and as an attack on tolerance, but that in any case, they’re extremely worrying and an unwelcome injection into the campaign. More generally, Sarkozy’s proposal to cut immigration in half is at least as worrying, and shows that the mainstream right has almost completely integrated the reasoning of the far right in terms of migration and security. It’s very, very sad.

      1. The question of immigration in France is a very tricky one to tackle. France created its own fear, hatred of foreigners. But what must be reminded is that France rejects today the immigration that the country encouraged, used and needed yesterday.
        It is “easy” to believe or to be convinced that in times of recession, the priority has to be given to the French, and the immigration doors should be closed. But do we really want to live in this world?
        Immigration, as always, has to be regulated, for the simple reason that one coutry cannot welcome the whole world. But immigration has become France’s pet peeve and phobia. Which directly links to what Marine Le Pen is advocating.
        I don’t always know how to position myself on that one, I only know I don’t want to live in a country leaning towards xenophobia and racism.

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