Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. Photo: flickr

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. Photo: flickr

On Monday, February 11, French representative and leader of the Debout La République (literally “Stand Up, Republic”) party Nicolas Dupont-Aignan spent the day in Lille, in the north of France, visiting a Romani living camp. Later, he held a public gathering in the University of Sciences Po Lille. La Jeune Politique was there.

The evening was cold in Lille, and students waited for Nicolas Dupont-Aignan to finish the briefing with his supporters. Around thirty of them, most of them over fifty, had followed their leader throughout his day in Lille, and were discussing with him their political strategy: a classic party summit. Finally, the doors opened, and slowly the students of Sciences Po Lille came in to almost completely fill the remaining two hundred seats of the amphitheatre.

It proved to be a lively political meeting, a chance for Nicolas Dupont-Aignan to explain his platform and ideologies to a room full of politics students eager to interact with and question the leader of this small right-wing party. Debout La République is the party Dupont-Aignan created when he left the UMP after the election of Nicolas Sarkozy. After a dispute with the newly elected President, he decided not to be “the nationalist conscience” of the UMP anymore.

Indeed, Dupont-Aignan advocates a curious idea for 2013: the France he dreams of is “Gaullist,” and the term, deriving from General de Gaulle, hero of World War Two and President of the Republic from 1958 to 1969, featured often in his discussion. Its use connotes a strong independence on the diplomatic scene and a fair combination of liberalism and state interventionism in economic matters. To sum it up succinctly, Dupont-Aignan dreams of the France of the post-war boom.

Even if he had been invited primarily to talk about European matters, for Nicolas Dupont-Aignan it all revolves around France. And to his great despair, such thinking is not shared by French Presidents since Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who was elected in 1974. His voice rises when he bemoans how these Presidents had “abandoned the democratic power” to the un-elected officials, the “technocrats of Brussels;” in short, to the European Union.

His assessment of the French political scene is that it is beyond any hope. To Dupont-Aignan, President Hollande, with whom he gets along “better than Sarkozy,” is powerless, the senior civil service has “quit,” and the media has done the same. All of them have given up in the face of a globalization that has caused “not only three million unemployed, as the official statistics say, but rather five, maybe eight.” Further, France he believes has lost its capacity to effectively integrate because of uncontrolled immigration.

Sometimes, Dupont-Aignan toes the fine line that separates the republican right from the extreme right. Although he is cautious never to cross it, he willingly admits the connections between his party and the Front National party of Marine Le Pen. “She took our entire economic platform,” he claims. The problem of the FN is that it excludes people, “and you can’t win when you exclude citizens.”

Overall, however, he agrees with the FN on the European affairs. The European Union is for him a disaster and bound to fail, as it cannot reproduce what has guaranteed the stability of France: its national character. “You cannot build Europe by decree,” he said. As they are many nations within the EU, their interests are different and cannot be reconciled, which is why the euro currency will fail as well. France must then be ready for this, he urges.

After a half-hour presentation, Dupont-Aignan had to face the incisive questions of a crowd accustomed to “grilling” politicians. The atmosphere was friendly, despite the varying political backgrounds among the audience. As a savvy politician, Dupont-Aignan was able to link most of the questions to the ideas he believes in, even if sometimes this meant not answering the actual question.

It also led him down the hazardous path of rhetorical shortcuts. For example, he compared the “renouncement” of globalization on the part of the French elite to the ones of the France of Joan of Arc and of 1940. But it permitted him to raise a couple of intriguing ideas for a defendant of the nation: he supports the partnership between the two sides of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the intervention in Mali. Meanwhile, he criticized the French reaction in favor of Al-Assad’s opponents.

Overall, it was a pleasant and stimulating evening in the amphitheatre of Sciences Po Lille. Even if Nicolas Dupont-Aignan was more convincing to his own supporters than to his contradictors, the majority of the audience had to recognize that the politician is indeed one of a kind. The incongruence between his platform and the reality of our time, and his ideological proximity with the Front de Gauche, the FN, and the UMP, makes him a unique and original individual in French politics.