France’s Sarkozy back on stage to save UMP

France’s Sarkozy back on stage to save UMP

France’s Sarkozy back on stage to save UMP

Sarkozy greets supporters in his first political appearance since losing power. REUTERS photo

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy made his first political appearance since losing power, staging an appeal to hundreds of conservative lawmakers on July 8 to help save the UMP party from financial ruin.

Greeted by a mass of fans as he arrived at UMP headquarters, Sarkozy called for donations to prop up the party after France’s top legal body ruled last week that it overshot spending limits on his failed 2012 re-election campaign and must repay 11 million euros in state subsidies.

While Sarkozy denied the meeting marked the start of his political comeback, the former president has made clear that he is mulling a re-election bid for 2017. Many on the right see Sarkozy as the only person who can reunite a party that fractured into two camps, one with a hardline stance on immigration and the other more moderate, after his May 2012 defeat to Socialist François Hollande.

“This is not my political comeback,” Sarkozy tweeted as the meeting began - his first statement on Twitter since his election defeat. “When I return to the podium it will be to speak to the French people about France.”

4,000 joined

Sarkozy only fanned speculation he is plotting his return by telling the audience that it was not the moment to talk about the next election. “The day that I make a comeback, I’ll make it known,” he said.

UMP President Jean-Francois Cope said that since the constitutional council’s ruling on July 4, some 4,000 people had joined the UMP and it had raised 2.3 million euros in donations out of the 11 million it needs to raise before end-July. Meanwhile, recent surveys by Ifop show ed 40 percent of voters want Sarkozy back as president, but among UMP supporters 58 percent want him to run in 2017, leagues ahead of his closet rival and former prime minister, Francois Fillon, at 16 percent.