But, with 6.4 million votes going begging in a run-off against Socialist Party (PS) candidate François Hollande, the incumbent was ready to declare the FN “a democratic party”, since it is allowed to stand in elections.
Its voters should not be stigmatised, he said, they had cast “a crisis vote, a vote of anger” and he promised to “listen to them”.
Sarkozy caused uproar in the left-inclined press when he declared at a rally in Longjumeau, near Paris, that Le Pen is “compatible with the republic” and the FN vote was “not reprehensible”.
Finance Minister François Baroin complained of “intellectual terrorism” after Libération printed the quote with a picture of Sarkozy on its front page and Communist l’Humanité compared the incumbent’s attacks on the unions to statements by Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Pétain.
Who won where in French presidential first round?
The authoritative afternoon paper Le Monde followed with an angry editorial slamming Sarkozy for a “political and moral” failing and accusing him of adopting “the language, the rhetoric and now the ideas, or rather the obsessions, of M [Jean-Marie] and Mme Le ¨Pen”.
“We have always fought the Front National,” he said on Europe 1 radio. “There is not, there has never been, there will never be an alliance with the Front National.”
But Le Pen wants to know where Sarkozy’s UMP will stand in legislative elections expected to take place on 10 and 17 June.
On Tuesday Prime Minister François Fillon declared “stupid” a declaration by UMP Senator and former minister Chantal Jouanno that she would vote Socialist rather than FN if faced with the choice in a run-off for a parliamentary seat.
Like the presidential election, French parliamentary polls go to two rounds with a run-off of two or three leading parties.
Le Pen on Wednesday called on Sarkozy and UMP leader Jean-François Copé to “clearly state if they would call for a Socialist vote in constituencies where the FN faces the Socialists”.
In cantonal elections last year, Sarkozy and Copé refused to back either side in FN-PS run-offs but they have yet to express an opinion on the question in relation to this year’s parliamentary election.
Hollande, too, demanded to know where the UMP stands on the question, accusing Sarkozy of trying to attract not just the voters but also the leaders of the far right.
Sarkozy and his supporters have pitched hard for FN voters' support since Sunday’s first round.
- “M Hollande says they were wrong. I think that when the people speak they are expressing themselves, they’re not wrong,” Sarkozy said Wednesday.
- On Tuesday Sarkozy infuriated the left and the unions by calling a rally on 1 May, when the world’s trade unions celebrate International Workers’ Day, to honour “real” workers who resent the fact that the unemployed may earn more than they do. The FN has celebrated 1 May as Joan of Arc day since 1988.
- At his Longjumeau meeting Sarkozy attacked Hollande for not taking part in the parliamentary vote on his burka bill and claimed immigrants come to France for its social security payments, “among the most generous in Europe”.
- Copé accused the Socialists of appealing to a sectarian vote with their promise of voting rights in local elections for non-EU immigrants in France for more than five years, prompting Hollande to point out that Sarkozy backed the idea in 2001 and 2005.
- Two UMP MPs, Franck Riester and Eric Ciotti, claimed that 700 mosques had signed an appeal to vote for Hollande, although the country’s main Muslim group says it can find no trace of such a call.