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Can Sarkozy 2.0 carve out a place on the new French right?

It came as little surprise this afternoon when Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the recently rebranded conservative party Les Républicains and former president of France between 2007 and 2012, announced his plans to re-seek the presidency in the upcoming 2017 elections. The announcement came in the form of a carefully crafted tweet in which the former president posted a photo of a blurb from the back-cover of his upcoming book, Tout pour la France (Everything for France).

Sarkozy enters what is already a remarkably fractured political scene. Against the backdrop of economic insecurity, the specter of terrorist attacks, and a cultural backlash against foreigners and immigrants, the loyalties and fault-lines that have defined the terms of debate in the country over the past several decades are showing signs of disintegration and re-alignment.

In this climate, Sarkozy is attempting to stake out his place in the new French right by forestalling the rise of Marine Le Pen. The National Front currently enjoys record levels of popularity. Following its success in the 2015 regional elections, Le Pen declared it the “first party” of France. Sarkozy seeks to incorporate elements of his competitor’s rhetoric, vowing to preserve French “identity” and restore public “authority” in the “numerous areas” where it no longer holds sway.

The situation on the left is no more orderly, as François Hollande is loathed by many in his own party. Having campaigned in 2012 as something of an anti-neoliberal populist, he has caved in the face of stiff resistance from international finance and sought a variety of labor market liberalizations and reforms. The sitting president is so unpopular that, should he decide to run for office again, he will first be forced into a primary battle with a widening field of candidates from his own party.