For three decades, Nadine Morano was a passionate ally of Nicolas Sarkozy – a verbal gunslinger who shot her mouth off to boost the former President and berate his enemies.
Ms Morano, 51, one of the most mocked and most outspoken figures in French politics, is now threatening to “bump off” Mr Sarkozy’s hopes of reclaiming the Elysée Palace.
Moderates in Mr Sarkozy’s centre-right party have persuaded him to disown and punish Ms Morano for saying on television that France is a “Judaeo-Christian country of the white race”.
The remarks embarrassed Mr Sarkozy, who has been courting hard-right voters by making appeals to national “identity” without using such explicitly racial language.
The former family affairs minister refuses to accept that she did anything wrong. She insists that she was quoting Charles de Gaulle, the founder of the modern French state and the leader of Free France during the Second World War. France, she said, was a “white country” which “accepted foreigners”… “I want France to remain France. I don’t want France to become a Muslim country.”
Her remarks – not for the first time – provoked an outcry on the left and were angrily repudiated by many senior figures within her own party, Les Républicains. The France of 2015, they pointed out was a multiracial country which defined itself by its common culture and values – not by race.
After trying to ignore the row for days, Mr Sarkozy has let it be known that he will punish Ms Morano next week by ejecting her from the party’s campaign in regional elections in December.
In that case, Ms Morano warned publicly, Mr Sarkozy can “forget” his hopes of reclaiming the presidency in 2017.
Before the “white race” row, Ms Morano had already fallen out with Mr Sarkozy and announced that she would run against him and two other candidates in next year’s centre-right primary. She hinted strongly this week that, if punished, she would be prepared to use inside knowledge against her former mentor.
“There are no [legal] cases against me. I have never been convicted of anything,” Ms Morano said. “It’s not worth Nicolas Sarkozy even thinking of running for the presidency. I will bump him off.”
Mr Sarkozy faces a series of judicial investigations into alleged influence-peddling and illegal fund-raising while he was President from 2007 to 2012. He denies all wrongdoing.
Ms Morano, the daughter of a lorry driver from Nancy in eastern France, is a rare example of someone who has risen from a working-class childhood to French ministerial office. Although never a leading figure, she has long been used by Mr Sarkozy as a tribune of the people – someone who dares to say what ordinary people are thinking.
One senior figure in Les Républicains described Ms Morano as “Sarkozy’s unexploded grenade”. The former President had made fear of migrants and Islamist terrorism a central plank of his re-election campaign, the official said. Ms Morano had embarrassed him by recasting his arguments in the language of the far right. “His creature is escaping from his control. He has only himself to blame,” the party official said.
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