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Sarkozy's tomato-tossing son puts president's 'law and order' platform in doubt

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits the "La France en relief" exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, Feb. 14, 2012.

Thibault Camus/Reuters/Thibault Camus/Reuters

The missiles were launched from deep inside the Elysee Palace, home of the President of the Republic, by a hidden assailant, and several of them struck a policewomen standing guard on a Paris sidewalk, leaving the crime scene echoing with frightened shrieks and spattered in red.

Luckily for the policewoman, the projectiles were tomatoes, marbles and balls of paper. Unluckily for Nicolas Sarkozy, after the policewoman filed a criminal complaint, it emerged that the assailant was the president's 14-year-old son, Louis. He'd been playing in the palace with two friends when they decided to do the very thing that his father had built his career denouncing: They attacked the police.

It was the latest in a series of incidents involving the mischievous and apparently somewhat undisciplined children of Mr. Sarkozy, who is struggling to get re-elected on a tough law-and-order platform. This time, the president ushered the policewoman into the palace for a personal apology, and she dropped the charges – amid reports that the Elysee had tried to silence the issue – but not before all of France had become distracted away from Mr. Sarkozy's faltering re-election campaign and fascinated by his offspring.

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As a political allegory, it had a certain piquancy: Even as the news of young Louis's tomato-tossing adventure broke on Sunday, Mr. Sarkozy was in the midst of using a major speech to launch a tough law-and-order, anti-immigrant platform that seemed to have been designed to steal the thunder of Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's ultra-right-wing National Front.

Mr. Sarkozy said he will cut immigration in half and demand an aggressive crackdown on undocumented immigration, which he called "the implosion of Europe." He called for an end to the European Union's open-borders system, and vowed to crack down further on the wearing of Muslim headscarves.

His rhetoric was clearly aimed at attracting voters away from the National Front, whose leader has built on her party-founder father Jean-Marie Le Pen's platforms of racial intolerance and ultra-nationalist protectionism. Much of Mr. Sarkozy's rhetoric Sunday drew its language directly from her speeches, describing a clash of civilizations and the need for tough national discipline.

That law-and-order message was undermined rather dramatically by Monday morning's tomato-barrage headlines. They followed another incident in February where Mr. Sarkozy's other son Pierre, a 26-year-old DJ, had developed a stomach ache while performing at a nightclub in the Ukraine and had been flown home by private jet at a cost to taxpayers of $43,000.

This has all created a sense that Mr. Sarkozy's household, which is effectively run by his musician-model wife, Carla, is a place of disorder and indiscipline – exactly the message he doesn't want to be sending. Polls show him at a distressing 26 per cent in the polls, three points behind his Socialist Party challenger François Hollande and not very far ahead of Ms. Le Pen's National Front, with 17 per cent.

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About the Author
International-Affairs Columnist

Doug Saunders writes the Globe and Mail's international-affairs column, and also serves as the paper's online opinion and debate editor. He has been a writer with the Globe since 1995, and has extensive experience as a foreign correspondent, having run the Globe's foreign bureaus in Los Angeles and London.He was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and educated in Toronto. More

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