By Maxime Gauin
Mr. Sarkozy placed himself in an uneasy situation. As the head of the conservative list for the European elections in 1999, he had said nothing against the Turkish candidacy to the European Union. He did not participate in the first real controversy in France regarding this topic, at the end of 2002. Suddenly, in 2004, he turned into a staunch opponent of this candidacy. In 2007, during the presidential campaign, he promised to block all negotiations and to forward, with support, the Masse bill, i.e. the precedent text criminalizing the “denial” of the “Armenian genocide” claims. Actually, he froze only five chapters and his government refused to forward the Masse bill to the Senate. When this text was presented in spring 2011 because of a senatorial initiative, he successfully requested the senators of his party to vote against it.
After the historical defeat of the right in the senatorial elections of September 2011, Mr. Sarkozy started to be concerned about his reelection—actually, such a fear should have at least begun in Autumn 2009, the turning point of his mandate. For the Armenian question, his electoral calculation was quite simple. At first, it was necessary to repair the negative effect of the vote in the Senate on May 4, 2011. It was also, perhaps, motivated by the design to distract the Socialist Party and provoke a split between this organization and the electors of Turkish, or even Arab, origin—especially in the region of Lyon, where there are both big Armenian and Turkish populations, the Armenians having been more influential for the moment. In Mr. Sarkozy’s perspective, the Constitutional Council should be concerned only by a priority question of constitutionality (QPC), because a QPC takes much more time than an application by MPs. The bill would have been adopted, and crushed after the elections. Many commentators in Turkey and elsewhere affirmed that Mr. Sarkozy targeted also the far-right electorate. It may be the case. But the large majority of this electorate is not interested by such topics, and that is why Marine Le Pen, not exactly a Turkophile, said on the public radio channel France Inter that “Turkey was right to tell France to mind its own business.”
Now, Mr. Sarkozy has already lost. He failed to prevent MPs from presenting applications to the Constitutional Council. Last week, he threatened to present a new bill in case of cancellation. However, his government did not use the urgency procedure, which would mean the Constitutional Council having to decide in eight days instead of one month—two UMP deputies who signed the application from the Assembly requested the use of this procedure, for totally different reasons. As a result, the presentation of a new bill, already very difficult with the urgency procedure, is now impossible. The Constitutional Council will pronounce its decision at the very end of February or on March 1, approximately when the holidays will begin for the Parliament because of the presidential and legislative elections. He can only make impotent speeches, like recently during the annual dinner of the Representative Council of France’s Jewish Associations (CRIF). President of the CRIF Richard Prasquier carefully avoided supporting Mr. Sarkozy’s stance on the Armenian question. Not unimportantly, the Turkish ambassador attended the dinner, too.
What about the expected electoral effect? The voters of Armenian heritage represent less than one percent of the total electorate, and only a minority of these voters change their position according to the promise regarding Turkey and the “genocide” allegation. The affair of the Boyer bill was an occasion to see the rather effective action of the pro-Turkish, anti-memorial laws faction within the Socialist Party, especially Bariza Kiari, Vice President of the Senate; and Gwendal Rouillard, deputy of Lorient (Bretagne), who has also been a friend of candidate for the presidential elections François Hollande for around 15 years. In the Lyon region, the increasing activity of the Franco-Turkish associations and the big number of voters of Turkish origin who registered to vote in December 2011 are leading to some significant changes—but it is too soon to arrive at a conclusion.
In Bouches-du-Rhône, the last département (county) of France where MPs are unanimous in supporting the Armenian claims, the Socialist Party endorsed Olivier Ferrand, director of the social-democrat think tank Terra Nova, and a supporter of Franco-Turkish cooperation. Mr. Ferrand is even careful in his wording about the Armenian question.
Nothing expected by Mr. Sarkozy happened. This is true for other attempts to improve his popularity. According to a survey by IFOP published on January 31, the intentions to vote for Mr. Sarkozy only increased from 24 to 24.5 percent (in comparison with the prior survey of this institute),but increased from 28 to 31 percent for Mr. Hollande. For the second ballot, the survey indicates the figures of 58 percent for Mr. Hollande against only 42 percent for Mr. Sarkozy—no other French president elected by direct universal suffrage and candidate up for reelection has had such bad results in these surveys in the January of election year. “We have a Hollande effect; we expected a Sarkozy effect,” said the deputy director of IFOP.
This may be the end of any “Sarkozy effect.”