Cantona’s ‘presidential bid’ a social housing rallying call


If media reports were to be believed on Tuesday, football legend Eric Cantona was going to be the celebrity spanner in the 2012 French presidential election works. But his bid is more a call for social housing to be a core issue in the campaign. Football legend-turned actor Eric Cantona has achieved a PR coup by asking mayors around the country to support an apparent bid to enter the French presidential fight.

His mission is to put social housing back into the debate and generate support for the Fondation Abbe-Pierre, a charity supporting “social housing for the underprivileged”. Media reports on Tuesday suggested that Cantona was seeking the legally required 500 mayors’ signatures so that he could present himself as a candidate in April and May’s presidential vote.

But there was never any real question of “King Eric”, as he is known by his army of fans at Manchester United, being a serious contender to become president of the French Republic. In his letter to the country’s mayors, Cantona said he wants their signatures because he is “a concerned citizen of our time. I want to offer an opportunity to young people, whose choices are too limited, too unjust, too brutal and systematic.

“This commitment demands that I speak up, more seriously than usual, with a keen sense of my responsibility as a citizen at a time when our country is faced with difficult choices and is determining its future.”

“Getting 500 signatures will allow me to carry my simple and clear message – one of truth but also of respect.”

‘Concrete political commitments’

The message, sent on Monday and titled “Eric Cantona, concerned citizen”

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pointed readers towards his apparent campaign site – which was “under construction” until late on Monday. By Tuesday morning the web address was redirecting readers to (General Mobilisation for Housing) which is collecting signatures in support of the Fondation Abbe-Pierre. The charity estimates that the lives of some 10 million people in France are blighted by inadequate and unaffordable housing. Every year the Fondation Abbe-Pierre presents its report on the French housing situation on February 1 at a convention in Paris. “All the presidential candidates are invited to attend,” Cantona told left-leaning daily Liberation on Tuesday. “It will be an opportunity for them to make concrete political commitments [towards easing the country’s housing situation.]”

Cantona, who played for Manchester United from 1992 to 1997, is no stranger to highly publicised rallying cries for political action. In December 2010 he called on French citizens to withdraw all their money from their bank accounts in order to bring the financial system to its knees – a call that was largely ignored but nevertheless generated massive publicity. Patrick Doutreligne of the Fondation Abbe-Pierre Foundation told AFP on Monday that the footballer did not actually expect or want to be the next president of France. “He will indeed seek 500 signatures, not for the election but to make sure that housing is a priority. You need a spur like Cantona to give housing the place it deserves in this campaign.”

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