Copé is fighting former prime minister François Fillon for the leadership of the conservative UMP, which is trying to pick itself up and dust itself off after Sarkozy’s defeat in this year’s presidential election.
In a 2008 study 16 per cent of French residents of European origin said they had been the victims of a “racist situation”, 23 per cent they had not experienced racism but felt they might do and 10 per cent said they had suffered racial discrimination in the previous five years.
Thirty-two per cent of immigrants said they had been in a “racist situation”, 29 per cent they had not experienced racism but felt they might do and 26 per cent said they had suffered racial discrimination in the previous five years.
Following custom and practice for candidates to high office in France, Copé is publishing a book and excerpts from it have been published in the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper.
If Copé hoped that his literary labours would attract publicity, his wish has been granted.
Politicians on the left have lined up to slam his claim that “more and more inhabitants” of Meaux, the city of which he is mayor, complain of being victims of “anti-white racism” (in scare quotes in the original), while FN leader Marine Le Pen has accused him of stealing its ideas.
“An ‘anti-white racism’ is developing in neighbourhoods of our towns where individuals – some of whom have French nationality – express contempt for French people, calling them ‘Gaulois’, on the basis that they are not of the same religion, the same skin colour or the same origins as them,” he writes.
Claiming that he is “breaking a taboo”, Copé adds that “this racism is as unacceptable as every other form of racism – we must denounce it as we condemn all other forms of discrimination”.
“Copé can’t make his mind up whether to be the spitting image of Sarkozy or the parrot of Marine Le Pen,” tweeted the newly appointed leader of the Socialist Party, Harlem Désir, who started his political career at the head of the anti-racism campaign SOS-racisme.
The movement’s current leader, Benjamin Abtan, declared the phrase to be a “concept invented by the far right”.
“It’s not news that people are victims of racism because the colour of their skin, whatever it is,” he told Nouvel Observateur magazine. “But this concept invented by the Front National serves one aim: to reverse the victimisation.”
And far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said that Copé was repeating the far right’s argument, adding that Copé, who was largely responsible for his party’s shift to the right during this year’s election campaigns, represents the “ultra-reactionary wing of the UMP".
There was some embarrassment for Socialist Party spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, however.
Former education minister Luc Chatel found a reference to “anti-white racism” in her book Raison de plus! and commented, “It’s supposed to be OK when she talks about it but, when it’s Jean-François Copé, we have no right to talk about it.”
Vallaud-Belkacem replied that her argument was “the antithesis of Jean-François Copé’s” and that she was attacking “the flirtation by part of the right with the extreme right”.
As for Le Pen and her supporters, they lost no time in claiming copyright on the phrase and the idea.
“It’s cut and paste,” declared the FN leader, who in May called for a law against the alleged prejudice, claiming that little old ladies were being terrorised with names like "chalk-face".