French President Emmanuel Macron, who is widely considered to be a left-wing liberal, seems to have turned to his right-wing predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy — who led France from 2007 to 2012 — for assistance, as the so-called "Yellow Vests" protests ravage the country.
On December 7, the current and the former presidents met at the Elysee Palace for a lunch. According to Le Figaro, the two politicians discussed public order as well as Macron's recently announced tax exemption for overtime work.
Roughly one week after the meeting, on December 16, Macron sent Sarkozy to Tbilisi, Georgia, to represent France at the inauguration of Georgia's new president, Salome Zurabishvili — a move that "caused a stir in French political circles," according to Reuters.
Sources close to the former president say this was Macron's way to send a signal to right-wing voters in France, who have been shocked by images of burning cars in upscale areas of Paris and Macron's attempt to placate the protesters with costly handouts.
"Emmanuel Macron has understood the personal and political benefit he could draw from [Sarkozy]," one source told Reuters.
Francois Patriat, a senator and close ally of Macron, suggested that in sending Sarkozy to Georgia, Macron had an internal political goal in mind.
According to Patriat, Macron seeks to undermine Laurent Wauquiez, the leader of the conservative Republicans, the biggest opposition party, to which Sarkozy also belongs.
"By sending this signal, Macron is taking a pop at Wauquiez," Patriat said.
"It's a way for Sarkozy to appear at the center of the game, while stinging Wauquiez," said Damien Abad, a senior official for the Republicans.
An unnamed Elysee official said that the two leaders have a "cordial and respectful relationship." According to Reuters, Sarkozy has refrained from criticizing the incumbent, in contrast to Socialist Francois Hollande, who was president of France from 2012 to 2017 and has publicly expressed disagreements with Macron's policies since the latter took office.
It is still unclear, however, how exactly these political machinations will assist in quelling the nationwide riots.