Nicolas Sarkozy, remember him? The guy who left office mired in allegations of fraudulent overspending , receiving money from Colonel Gadaffi in 2007, wire- tapped by the French authorities, and reports of rallies with backstage dressing room as big as "apartments". Sarkozy manages to singlehandedly combine the dodginess of Nixon with the lavishness of Liberace. Now he's back for his for his reunion gig, a tribute act to his right wing premiership, and is again attempting to court Le Front National vote ahead of France's Presidential Elections next year. Post brexit and with the recent spate of terrorist attacks across France, Le Front National are a resurgent political force and are calling for Frexit. Will Sarkozy, ever the political opportunist, be able to resist the temptation to call for a referendum?
In the wake of Brexit, Marine Le Pen took to the airwaves and declared that 'I would vote for Brexit, even if I think that France has 1,000 more reasons to leave than the UK,'. Le Pen has reason to believe she could win such a referendum, with a recent Edinburgh university poll showing that 45% would vote remain, 33% to leave and 22% undecided, with 53% of French people saying that a referendum should be held. As Late as March, polling in the British EU referendum was showing a similar lead, and we know how that went.
With French Youth unemployment running at 23.30% and adult unemployment at 9.9% and with no growth in the last quarter of 2016. The French people are primed for the protectionist message and promise that a Frexit would bring .
Early indications are that Sarkozy is game; In a TV interview reported by Le Monde Sarkozy asserted that a new EU treaty could be put to a referendum: "I believe that we should not be afraid of the people: if they do not believe in the European idea and it does not stand the test of a referendum, then it is not the right path,".
'Remind you of anybody'; David Cameron in 2013 declaring that the people must "have their say... I say to the British people: this will be your decision." These are statements that we have come to expect from a British Conservative party whose Raison d'être for living for the last 30 years has been Europe- bashing.
But from a centrist French politician, from a Nation who have been at the centre of the European project from its inception that Sarkozy now feels he can come out openly and say in principle that he supports the idea of a referendum, albeit on treaty change, we have witnessed a sea change in European Politics. Merkel and Juncker should be very concerned.
However Sarkozy is currently locked horns in a battle to the death for leadership of his party with the former Prime Minster of France Alain Juppé. Sarkozy UMP party is now renamed les Republicans following the alleged fraud scandals surrounding Sarkozy's reign. Juppé currently leads presidential polling on 36%, Sarkozy on 23% and Hollande on 13%.
The Republicans looks like they are the party to beat and that the Nation will rally around them, to keep the Le Front National (29 % in the polls) out of power, as they did with the Socialists in 2012.
Juppé is currently not calling for a referendum on membership of the EU, but, like Sarkozy, is offering the prospect of a referendum in the light of treaty change in the EU: "A referendum will...be needed at some stage in Europe's reconstruction, not only in France but all countries concerned" .
But will Sarkozy seeing the chance to take his opponent down and wanting to court the Le Front National vote, call for an outright vote on EU membership? Reason over personal ambition has not stopped him in the past, and perhaps like Cameron, he foolishly believes that the French nation would see the light.
Nevertheless, perhaps he should take more heart in thinking that France starts from a much more pro European base than the UK ever did. But all indications would show that French support for the EU is getting more fragile by the day
History would warn Sarkozy against such a move. The last referendum in France on the EU was extremely tight. When the Maastricht treaty came in front of the French people, it scraped by only 51.05% of the vote.
However, Sarkozy may be seen as damaged goods for even his own party, but the concern is that he may push his competitor, Juppé, and the Country into a referendum on membership of the EU.
Europe is already on life support, if a Frexit referendum would to go ahead it would be on death row. The EU without Britain is a catastrophe, the EU without France is Armageddon. The European project would cease to exist. What would then happen in the vacuum that ensues is food for thought, and is a thought that some of the big guns, like Putin must be eyeing with glee.