In the early stages of the presidential campaign, it looked as though Sarkozy's theme was going to be "I saved the euro." Merkel appeared at his side and gave him her nihil obstat. Here was a genuine European, a statesman, above the sturm und drang of party politics and prepared to make the decisions that only a "tough" and "seasoned" leader could make. The contrast with Hollande, "le mou," was supposed to be stark and to need no explanation.
The only problem is that it didn't work. Sarkozy had saved the euro, but in doing so he had associated himself ever more closely with the European Union, which is less popular now in France than it was in 2005, when the treaty referendum was defeated. And he had thrown in his lot with Germany, whose contempt for "lazy southerners" may have been directed first at Greece but also resounded in the ears of the French who had been exhorted to "travailler plus pour gagner plus" yet find themselves worse off than they were before.
So the president and his men have evidently decided to change tack. At Villepinte today, he called for "protection" if not protectionism. He threatened to renege on the Schengen agreement while announcing that Europe should cease to "threaten" French workers and instead become their "protector." The result is total and complete incoherence. Having accepted a nonsensical "golden rule" for the sake of European unity, having extolled Europe as the sole means to secure France's future both economically and militarily, he now retreats behind the walls of "conservatism in one nation" already erected by Marine Le Pen. Sarkozy's Europeanism had been one of his better traits, but now he's shed his skin like a snake and donned another, at least for the length of the campaign.
The danger, of course, is that this sham anti-Europeanism will prove more effective than the real thing, dispiriting Europe's true supporters while inviting nothing but mockery from Europe's enemies. It was pleasant to think that even if the euro failed, Europe would survive, but anti-European sentiment is chipping away at the foundations of the faith in the core countries. More and more Germans see Europe as an invalid whose care will be their burden to bear for decades to come, while more and more French see it as camouflage behind which the Germans are coming yet again. The climate deteriorates by the day, and Sarkozy, who in 2007 had seemed to model himself on Bush, now seems to have become as chameleon-like as Romney. Quelle mascarade!