* Nicholas Sarkozy to assume office on May 16
* 57 members of Sarkozy’s family perished in the Holocaust
* Mark Steyn: Sarkozy’s will be the shortest of honeymoons
1. Will he be a Reagan or a Thatcher?
2. A love of Ernest Hemingway and Sylvester Stallone
3. Sarkozy stands up for Israel
4. Sarkozy’s grandfather’s family wiped out by the Nazis
5. “Battle of France” (Editorial, National Review, May 7, 2007)
6. “Shortest of honeymoons” (By Mark Steyn, New York Sun, May 7, 2007)
7. “Netanyahu hails Sarkozy’s victory” (Yediot Ahronot, May 7, 2007)
8. “Women voters shun Segolene Royal” (Reuters, May 7, 2007)
9. “French Jews celebrate Sarkozy victory” (JTA, May 7, 2007)
10. “L’Adulte: Can Sarkozy reform France?” (Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2007)
WILL HE BE A REAGAN OR A THATCHER?
I attach some articles on the decisive victory of Nicholas Sarkozy in Sunday’s French presidential runoff.
These include a piece by Mark Steyn, who predicts that opposition to change in France is so strong that Sarkozy won’t be able to emerge as the equivalent of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher or America’s Ronald Reagan. However disastrous for the French economy, the French love their benefits too much, says Steyn. As a Reuters headline put it: “Frenchman Lived With Dead Mother To Keep Pension.”
The Wall Street Journal Europe also cast doubts on Sarkozy’s ability to enact his policies, with a front page headline yesterday: “Sarkozy gets mandate for change, but is France ready?”
I also attach a piece welcoming Sarkozy’s victory by his close friend Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s Likud opposition party; a Reuters piece (“Women voters shun Ségolène Royal”); and an analysis by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal (“Can Sarkozy reform France?”)
A LOVE OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY AND SYLVESTER STALLONE
Sarkozy is likely to concentrate on domestic policy. As far as foreign policy is concerned, as I noted before, he is likely to adopt a more pro-American, pro-British and pro-Israeli position on the Middle East than his pro-Palestinian predecessor Jacques Chirac. (See The French go to the polls, as Ramallah renames street after Jacques Chirac, April 20, 2007.)
Sarkozy said during the campaign that the Palestinians deserve a homeland, but the security of Israel “is not negotiable.”
He also says he will take a tough position on Iran’s rush to develop nuclear weapons.
Sarkozy is proudly pro-American. He has said he admires, among other things, Ernest Hemingway, Steve McQueen, Sylvester Stallone, America’s strong work ethic and its belief in upward mobility.
SARKOZY STANDS UP FOR ISRAEL
I mentioned in the previous dispatch (Belgian MEP says she feels like “strangling” Israeli Ambassador) that the Paris correspondent for the Times of London had noted that some commentators believed the character attacks on Sarkozy “carried a whiff of France’s old anti-Semitism,” and that Sarkozy is one quarter Jewish.
Several of you wrote to me asking about Sarkozy’s Jewish ancestry.
His father was a Christian Hungarian immigrant to France. Sarkozy’s mother was born to the Mallah family, one of the oldest Jewish families of Salonika, Greece. In the 15th century, the Mallah family (which means “messenger” or “angel” in Biblical Hebrew) escaped the Spanish Inquisition to the French region of Provence, and moved in the 16th century to Salonika (“the Jerusalem of the Balkans”).
Sarkozy’s grandfather, Aron Mallah, had an uncle Moshe who edited “El Avenir,” the leading paper of the Zionist movement in Greece. His cousin, Asher, helped establish the Technion University in Haifa, and was elected first President of the Zionist Federation of Greece.
Sarkozy’s grandfather moved to France and converted to Catholicism in order to marry a French Christian girl. Although he converted, as a former Jew he feared for his life under Nazi race laws and went into hiding during World War II.
SARKOZY’S GRANDFATHER’S FAMILY WIPED OUT BY THE NAZIS
During the Holocaust, most of the Mallahs (both those who stayed in Salonika and those who had moved to France) were deported to extermination camps. In total, fifty-seven family members were murdered by the Nazis. According to Nazi records one, Buena Mallah, was the subject of Mengele’s experiments.
In an interview Sarkozy gave in 2004 to Thibaud Collin and Philippe Verdin for their book “La République, les religions, l’espérance,” he said: “Should I remind you the visceral attachment of every Jew to Israel, as a second mother homeland? There is nothing outrageous about it. Every Jew carries within him a fear passed down through generations, and he knows that if one day he will not feel safe in his country, there will always be a place that would welcome him. And this is Israel.”
Sarkozy himself, however, feels Christian: he is presently in a monastery, where he has taken a few days off, prior to assuming office on May 16, to contemplate his victory and his forthcoming term as French president.
Twice married, Sarkozy has three children – the third by his current wife Cecilia with whom his stormy relationship has received widespread coverage in the gossip magazines.
-- Tom Gross
SIX MONTHS AGO JOHNNY HALLYDAY, THE “FRENCH ELVIS,” TOOK UP SWISS CITIZENSHIP
Battle of France
The National Review
May 7, 2007
Six months ago Johnny Hallyday, the “French Elvis,” announced that he was taking up Swiss citizenship to escape France’s high tax rates, which absorbed about two-thirds of his income. Because Hallyday was known to be a supporter of then-candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, a political row immediately burst out. Showing some political courage, Sarkozy did not disavow Hallyday; instead he declared that the singer was quite justified. If he won the election, said Sarkozy, he would cut tax rates to entice France’s high earners back home.
That promise was important to many more people than Johnny Hallyday. Something like half a million young French people are estimated to be living in southern England. The Kent Corridor from London to Dover is known ironically as “France’s Silicon Valley.” And for every Parisian exile ten actual Parisians still seethe under high taxes and think about emigration. That sums up why Sarkozy won Sunday’s election.
Indeed, he did more than simply win an election. By any normal standard Sarkozy has established a clear mandate for sweeping conservative reform in France. He won the presidency by six points in an election that attracted a massive 85 percent turnout. He owed nothing of his victory to other parties or candidates – both the centrist François Bayrou and the ultra-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen refused to support him. He made no secret of the character and extent of his reform program – indeed, as the Hallyday incident demonstrates, he rammed them home with enthusiasm. And it seems likely that he will be granted a friendly National Assembly with a large conservative majority in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
So, if representative democracy works as it is supposed to do, Sarkozy will push through the market reforms that France has needed for at least two decades. He will deregulate its labor market, slim down the public-sector payroll, abandon the symbolic 35-hour work week, reduce public spending from its current 52 percent of GDP, and reform the French welfare state. Friends and admirers of France will hope that he succeeds. Americans will be especially supportive since he has said that with his election the U.S. has a “friend” – presumably he will end the anti-Americanism that has shaped French foreign policy under Jacques Chirac, his old patron and recent bitter rival. But will Sarkozy be able to push through such an ambitious and contentious program against opposition in the streets as well as in the corridors of power?
To say the least, it will be a high-risk project. In his first comments on the election, Sarkozy acknowledged that a passionate 47 percent of Frenchmen had opposed him. He denied that his victory was that of “one France over another” – even though the success of his program will require precisely that. He talked of the value of “social protection” and warned the European Union not to intrude on France’s social programs. (Sarkozy supports the European Constitution that the French rejected last year because they believed it would dismantle such programs.) Even if these remarks are merely the usual pseudo-generosity that winning politicians show to the other side to soothe their hurt feelings, they nonetheless suggest the scale of Sarkozy’s task.
That task is made harder and more complicated by non-economic problems – notably immigration and national identity. Young people in the banlieues around major cities, either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, are disproportionately unemployed because of France’s inflexible labor market. Economically and socially excluded, they fall prey to extremist ideologies, generally Muslim ones, and reject their identity as Frenchmen. That makes them less employable. To make matters worse, they are likely to fight against the very measures of labor-market flexibility that could help them.
Sarkozy’s greatest problem, however, is that with all its problems France is stable. Those Frenchmen in work, especially those in the public sector, have a guaranteed comfortable existence even under high tax rates. France has not yet suffered a “winter of discontent” – a collapse of the economy under strikes and labor unrest similar to the one that persuaded the British that there was no alternative to Thatcher’s economic and labor reforms. Taxes are high, jobs are scarce, and cars are burning in the banlieues, but life is far from unendurable. Most Frenchmen still see no urgent reason to change. Some will fight to protect their subsidies – the middle class in politics and cultural debate, the labor unions in the streets. Others who now favor Sarkozy’s program may abandon his cause when it becomes too much trouble.
None of this means that the Sarkozy’s reforms are doomed – merely (though it’s a big “merely”) that their success depends to a very great extent on Sarkozy personally. Sunday he beat all sides – including most leaders of his own party – to win the presidency. He is clearly a resourceful and tough politician as well as a clear economic thinker. He will need all his talents – and more – to win this Battle of France.
IS THE FRENCH ELECTION A BELATED ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF REALITY?
Shortest of honeymoons
By Mark Steyn
The New York Sun
May 7, 2007
Is the French election a belated acknowledgment of reality or the latest attempt to dodge it? In other words, is it Britain voting for Mrs. Thatcher in 1979 and America for Ronald Reagan the following year? That’s to say, the electorate understands the status quo is exhausted and unsustainable and that unless catastrophe is to be avoided radical course correction is required. Or is it Germany voting tepidly and tentatively to give Angela Merkel the narrowest of victories in 2005? In other words, the electorate was irritated with the incumbents but recoiled from any meaningful change, with the result that Frau Merkel found herself presiding over a nominally fresh government with no agenda and no mandate for reform.
I’d bet on the latter. Just as Frau Merkel proved not to be Germany’s Thatcher, I would be surprised if Nicolas Sarkozy turned out to be France’s Reagan. Not because he doesn’t have Reaganite tendencies but because the French electorate, like the Germans, aren’t there yet. M Sarkozy did well in the first round because he co-opted many of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s concerns. I don’t mean the fascism and the anti-Semitism and the oven jokes. It’s a tribute to the shriveling of the French political sphere that, by the time of the last presidential election in 2002, an antiquated perennial loser was able to catapult himself into second place. But, in an advanced technocratic state, where almost any issue worth talking about has been ruled beyond the scope of partisan politics, you might as well throw away terms like “left” and “right.” The previous presidential election was meant to be a contest between the supposedly conservative Jacques Chirac and his supposedly socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin. In practice, this boiled down to a candidate who’s left of right of left of center, and a candidate who’s right of left of right of left of center. Chirac and Jospin ran on identical platforms: they were both in favor of high taxes, high unemployment and high crime. Faced with a choice between Tweedleleft and Tweedleright, you couldn’t blame French voters for choosing to make it a real race by voting for the one guy running on an openly stated, clearly defined manifesto. In 2002, the political class considered most of M Le Pen’s preoccupations – immigration, crime, unemployment – beneath discussion.
This time round, Mr. Sarkozy didn’t make that mistake. The discontented citizenry often complain about the lack of croissance – that’s not a basket of crescent-shaped buttery breakfast pastries invented to mark Christendom’s victory over Islam at the gates of Vienna in 1693, but the French word for “growth.” The Fifth Republic has entirely missed out on the Reagan-Thatcher booms of the last quarter-century: its over-protected and over-regulated economy has led to permanently high unemployment and a lack of entrepreneurial energy, not to mention various social tensions from the blazing Citroens and Renaults lighting up the sky every night to entire suburbs that have effectively seceded from France to join the new Caliphate. It’s a measure of the torpor of French politics that M Chirac regarded a presidential election against an elderly fascist as little more than a mildly embarrassing social faux pas rather than a profound indictment of a failing system So he spent his second term as he did the first, governing as an elegant narcissistic complacent hack.
When you mention “the French riots,” most people assume you’re talking about the excitable chaps rampaging around in 2005. But it was another set of riots six months later that symbolizes the trap in which the political class is caught. The fall 2005 rioters were “youths” (ie Muslims from the suburbs), supposedly alienated by lack of economic opportunity. The spring 2006 rioters were “youths” (ie pampered deadbeats from the Sorbonne), protesting a new law that would enable employers to terminate the contracts of employees under the age of 26 in their first jobs, after two years.
To which the response of most Americans is: you mean, you can’t right now? No, you can’t. If you hire a 20-year-old and take a dislike to his work three months in, tough: chances are you’re stuck with him till mid-century. In France’s immobilized economy, it’s all but impossible to get fired. Which is why it’s all but impossible to get hired. Especially if you belong to that first category of “youths” from the Muslim ghettos, where unemployment is around 40 to 50 per cent. The second group of “youths” – the Sorbonne set – protesting the proposed new, more flexible labor law ought to be able to understand that it’s both necessary to the nation and, indeed, in their own self-interest: they are after all their nation’s elite. Yet they’re like lemmings striking over the right to a steeper cliff – and, naturally, the political class caved in to them.
When most of us on this side of the Atlantic think of “welfare queens,” our mind’s eye conjures some teenage crack whore with three kids by different men in a housing project. But France illustrates how absolute welfare corrupts absolutely. These Sorbonne welfare queens are Marie Antoinettes: unemployment rates for immigrants? Let ’em eat cake, as long as our pampered existence is undisturbed.
Not all French youth is so self-deluded. I notice, for example, every time I’m across the pond in my corner of South Kensington that one hears more and more French spoken on the street. There are somewhere between 400 and 500,000 French citizens living in Britain’s capital. London is now the seventh biggest French-speaking city in the world. These are young talented dynamic people who like the same things about France the British and American tourists do – the vin, the cuisine, the couture, the Provencal farmhouses and the Cote d’Azur’s topless beaches – but have concluded that it is no longer a society in which you can fulfill your economic potential. They would presumably be Sarkozy supporters, but, like many who feel the odds are stacked against them, they chose in the end to bail out.
As for those who remain, they’re sick of crime and unemployment and on the whole could do with rather fewer Muslims on the streets, but they’re not yet willing to give up on the economic protectionism and lavish social programs that lead, inexorably, to the crime and unemployment and a general economic and demographic decline leaving the nation dependent on mass immigration and accelerating Islamization.
In my recent book, whose title escapes me, I cite one of those small anecdotes that seems almost too perfect a distillation of Continental politics. It was a news item from 2005: A fellow in Marseilles was charged with fraud because he lived with the dead body of his mother for five years in order to continue receiving her pension of 700 euros a month.
She was 94 when she croaked, so she’d presumably been enjoying the old government check for a good three decades or so, but her son figured he might as well keep the money rolling in until her second century and, with her corpse tucked away under a pile of rubbish in the living room, the female telephone voice he put on for the benefit of the social services office was apparently convincing enough. As the Reuters headline put it: “Frenchman Lived With Dead Mother To Keep Pension.”
Think of France as that flat in Marseilles, and its economy as the dead mother, and the country’s many state benefits as monsieur’s deceased mom’s benefits. To the outside observer, the French give the impression they can live with the stench of death as long as the government benefits keep coming. If that’s the case, the new president will have the shortest of honeymoons.
“FRENCH POLICY WILL NO LONGER BE CHARACTERIZED BY REFLEXIVE ANTI-ISRAELISM”
Netanyahu hails Sarkozy’s victory
Opposition leader, a person friend of elected French president, says his election symbolizes a positive change
By Benjamin Netanyahu
May 7, 2007
Sarkozy and I met six years ago through a mutual friend, Meir Haviv, one of the managers of the umbrella organization of the Jewish community in France. I felt an immediate chemistry between us, and we met many times since, including for dinner in Jerusalem during his recent visit to Israel.
We even met for an hour when I was in Paris several weeks ago, although he was in the midst of an election campaign. The connection between us was created because we see many things eye-to-eye, first and foremost in terms of some of the international perceptions, the social perceptions and the economic perceptions.
Sarkozy has a positive attitude toward Israel and a supportive attitude toward the Jewish people, but he will first and foremost be the president of France.
I don’t think one can expect the French policy to change from one end to the other, but it is clear that it will no longer be characterized by reflexive anti-Israelism – a situation in which Israel is guilty until proven innocent.
I believe that the policy will be much more balanced, and this change will also derive from his attitude toward the United States. This is the first president since World War II who will not be imbued with De Gaulle’s attitude, which saw the US as a competitor, as this is a very refreshing change.
In terms of the great battle against radical Islam as well, Sarkozy’s election is an important change.
He faces a great task: His election symbolizes the French people’s huge desire for reforms – first and foremost in the economy. Sarkozy told me more than once about his plans and desires in terms of these issues.
It is clear that he will have to plan ahead in light of the political reality, but I have no doubt that he wants to renew the face of the French society and economy. He and his people understand that they have no immunity in the face of the globalization process.
I believe he will succeed. We are talking about an extremely determined and strong person. He has a map and a compass to navigate France’s road. His election symbolizes a change. For France it is a very big change, for Israel-France relations it is definitely a positive trend.
“JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE A FEMINIST, YOU DON’T VOTE FOR A WOMAN WHO DOES NOT HAVE THE ABILITY”
Women voters shun Segolene Royal
By Kerstin Gehmlich
May 7, 2007
Socialist Segolene Royal failed to win over a majority of women voters in France’s presidential election and may have paid a price for focusing too much on her gender at the expense of promoting her policies.
Only 48 percent of women voted for Royal, according to an Ipsos poll conducted on election day on Sunday, while 52 percent supported rightist rival and overall winner Nicolas Sarkozy.
The weak female support is a bitter personal blow for Royal, who had played up her feminist credentials throughout the campaign, frequently defending policies she would want “as a mother” and accusing critics of male chauvinism.
Some women said the glamorous Royal, a mother of four, had focused too much on the symbolism linked to becoming France’s first female president.
“The reason she did not have the female vote is not because there was no solidarity but because she was not up to it,” said Tita Zeitoun, founder of the Action de Femme group which fights to get more women into top business positions.
“Just because you’re a feminist, you don’t vote for a women who does not have the ability. We’re talking about the presidential election here ... It’s too serious to link this to a phenomenon of femininity or feminism,” she said.
Many voters complained Royal’s policies lacked coherence compared to the proposals by Sarkozy, “the candidate for work”, who promised rewards for those who worked hard and said he would undermine the 35-hour work week by cutting taxes on overtime.
The Ipsos poll showed a majority of private sector workers, pensioners and self-employed voted for Sarkozy, while Royal gained support among the unemployed and those aged under 25.
Royal had campaigned on leftist economic plans, including an increase in the minimum wage. She also pledged to make France a fairer place, saying she would promote the equal treatment of men and women and to fight violence against women.
Statistics show women in France are far from equal. Just 12 percent of lawmakers are female and only one woman heads a firm in the CAC-40 index of blue chip companies, and she is American.
“For some of you, it will not be obvious to say a woman can incarnate the highest responsibility,” Royal said in a televised debate last week, calling on voters to make an “audacious” choice.
But political analysts said Royal might have appeared aloof for some women from more modest backgrounds.
“There is a gap between her image, an image of a woman who belongs to the elite, who has done the ENA (elite school for civil servants), who has the look of women having acquired a high level of education,” said sociologist Mariette Sineau.
“She appears very different to working-class women,” Sineau added, noting that Royal had visited poorly paid women working as supermarket cashiers only towards the end of her campaign.
Royal’s support among older voters was particularly poor, with 64 percent of women above the age of 60 supporting Sarkozy, and only 36 percent voting for Royal, according to the Ipsos survey. Women under 35 were split between her and Sarkozy.
FRENCH JEWS CELEBRATE SARKOZY VICTORY
French Jews celebrate Sarkozy victory
By Rina Bassist
Jewish Telegraph Agency
May 7, 2007
Optimistic and celebratory, Jewish groups were quick to offer congratulations to Nicolas Sarkozy after his victory in French presidential elections.
Sarkozy, of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), defeated Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal in Sunday’s runoff.
He garnered some 53 percent to Royal’s 47 percent in the election, which featured a huge voter turnout.
The former interior minister was seen by Jewish voters as a friend to Israel and an important figure in the fight against antisemitism. Soon after his opponent conceded, Jewish groups came out with their good wishes.
“At a time when French Jews felt directly threatened by the rise in violent antisemitism in Paris and elsewhere across France a few years ago, Sarkozy played a critical role in moving the French government to finally recognise the gravity of the problem and to do what is necessary to address the ill winds that not only threaten the largest Jewish community in Western Europe, but, as we know from history, would ultimately pose a threat to wider French society,” American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris said in a statement.
The AJCommittee recalled that Sarkozy during that period was instrumental in stepping up police protection around Jewish buildings and schools, and arresting and prosecuting those who committed anti-Semitic acts. He told the group in a Washington address in 2004 that he would “consider any insult against Jews an insult against France.”
CRIF, the French Jewish community’s umbrella group, addressed its “warmest and most respectful congratulations” to Sarkozy in a Sunday statement.
“Your position statements during the electoral campaign carry much hope for a France that needs to be reconciled with itself,” President Roger Cukierman wrote. “I was touched by what you said and I understand that you intend to be a standard bearer of the French values we so cherish, those of a republic that... respects every individual and leaves no room for intolerance, racism and antisemitism.”
In a race that offered a clear choice between conservative and liberal policy, the voters gave Sarkozy, 52, a clear mandate for his economic and social reforms when he takes office May 16.
The grandson of a Greek Jew and the son of a Hungarian aristocrat, Sarkozy has pledged to initiate tougher rules to make it more difficult for immigrants to bring extended families to France. Among the economic reforms Sarkozy has pledged to push through early on are abolishing a tax on overtime, cutting the inheritance tax and obligating the unemployed to take work that is offered.
Sarkozy, who will succeed Jacques Chirac, will become the first president of immigrant stock.
Known as an American-style, law-and-order politician, Sarkozy had earned points in the Jewish community for his hard line against Muslim unrest in France, including antisemitic attacks though he drew fire from some liberal and immigrant groups for referring to some of the rioters as “rabble.”
In his victory speech at party headquarters in Paris, Sarkozy mentioned France’s relationship with the United States. “True friends can accept each other even if they have differences of opinions,” he said.
Frederic Encel, professor at the prestigious Science-Po Institute, said that Sarkozy’s unusual willingness to be associated with the United States also strengthens hope for good relations between France and Israel. “Nicolas Sarkozy is by far the most pro-Israeli French presidential figure Israel could have hoped for,” he said.
The fact that Sarkozy had not been trained at France’s national public administration school or by the Foreign Ministry “is a great advantage for Israel, as he is not committed to traditional diplomacy,” Encel said. “Royal would have stuck with existing approach,” he added, allowing people like her adviser Jean Louis Baillancourt, a member of a pro-Palestinian organization, to lead French diplomacy.
Royal, 53, who trailed in the polls since Sarkozy won the first round of voting on April 22, had warned that electing Sarkozy might spark the kind of rioting that took place in the suburbs last year. She said his candidacy represented “a dangerous choice.”
“It is my responsibility to alert people to the risk of [his] candidature with regards to the violence and brutality that would be unleashed in the country,” said Royal, who during a televised debate May 2 accused Sarkozy of “political immorality.”
Both candidates symbolized a break with the old guard. Both were born after World War II and said they were intent on bringing a real change after Chirac’s 12-year rule. But the similarities ended there: French voters had to choose between two very distinct personalities, attitudes and political programs.
Sarkozy entered politics as a protege of Chirac, but the two had a falling-out that remains to this day when Sarkozy backed Chirac’s rival for the presidency in 1995.
The Jewish community has seen Sarkozy as a friend of Israel, though he maintains the Jewish state must make concessions to allow the Palestinians to establish a viable state. But he has made clear to the Palestinian Authority that there is no justification for violence to achieve its means.
In an interview in the Jerusalem Post, Sarkozy called the 2002 Saudi initiative “constructive.” Under the two-state proposal, Arab states would recognize Israel if it withdrew to its pre-1967 borders and calls for a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
In the interview, Sarkozy said, “Only if Israel is guaranteed that its existence will not be threatened and the Palestinians are allowed to form a viable state can we achieve a durable and viable solution.”
One Jewish voter said, “As far as Israel is concerned, Royal has nothing to offer us, compared to Sarkozy.”
Outside a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, one Sarkozy voter rued some of Royal’s supporters. “As a Jew I don’t like the fact that many pro-Palestinian radical activists participate at her meetings,” said Armand, who asked that his last name not be used. “I think this is dangerous.
“Sarkozy, on the other hand, is one of the only [future] heads of states to have gone to the U.S. to meet President Bush. I’m not a fan of Bush, but still. In any case, I don’t think that Sarkozy is a fascist, as some people try to make us believe.”
“FRANCE’S GOVERNMENT LOOKS LIKE IT WILL FINALLY HAVE SOME ENERGETIC ADULT SUPERVISION”
L’Adulte: Can Sarkozy reform France?
By John Fund
The Wall Street Journal
May 7, 2007
Conservative Nikolas Sarkozy’s comfortable victory over Socialist Ségolène Royal in France’s presidential race may indicate that Europe’s slowest-growing major economy is finally ready for some change.
Long derided as a “center of social rest” for its cradle-to-grave welfare state, mandatory 35-hour work week, public-sector strikes and ossified employment rules, France has voted for a new president who claims he wants to shake things up. “France does not fear change,” Mr. Sarkozy told his supporters as the vote progressed yesterday, “France hopes for it.”
That’s unclear. It’s certainly true that Mr. Sarkozy styled himself as a reformer who wants to arrest the pessimism gripping a country where polls show 70% of voters think their country is in decline. He advocated tax cuts, allowing overtime, and shrinking the central government’s bloated bureaucracy by filling only half of the slots opened up by retirement. “The best social model is one that gives work to everyone,” he would tell audiences in calling for more dynamism in the economy. “That is no longer ours.”
But at the same time the former interior and finance minister has shown a willingness to bail out failing French companies and to embrace greater protectionism. Mr. Sarkozy is certainly no heir to Margaret Thatcher or even Tony Blair, but he is someone that free-market advocates can at least do business with.
So too can Americans. Mr. Sarkozy was willing to take a lot of heat back home from his visit to America last September on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. While in the U.S., he made it clear that although France’s foreign policy will often be opposed to America’s, he puts great importance on improving relations. “He’s very admiring of the dynamism of the American people, and of their capacity to give an opportunity to everyone,” says Michel Barnier, a former foreign minister who is advising Mr. Sarkozy.
By French standards Mr. Sarkozy is positively effusive about the need for the two countries to emphasize their points of agreement. “My dedication to our relationship with America if well known and has earned me substantial criticism in France,” he said. “But let me tell you something, I’m not a coward. I embrace that friendship. I’m proud of the friendship... and I proclaim it proudly.” He then went on to say that France’s foreign policy had often suffered from an arrogant and insensitive approach, a clear reference to the haughty attitudes of retiring president Jacques Chirac and his prime minister, Dominique de Villepin.
But the clearest break that Mr. Sarkozy represents from leaders like Mr. Chirac is in his background. The son of a Hungarian immigrant, he has always been viewed as an outsider by French elites. He failed to attend the prestigious National School of Administration, where almost every leading figure in French politics, including purported populist Ségolène Royal, went.
It is difficult for Americans to appreciate just how removed from the French people the nation’s bureaucratic elite is. Its arrogance is mind-boggling. One of Mr. Chirac’s ministers privately compared the public’s repudiation of the EU Constitution in 2005 to a temper tantrum. Listen to former president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the prime architect of the now-rejected 448-article European Constitution, when he was asked to respond to complaints that voters would have trouble understanding the dense document: “The text is easily read and quite well phrased, which I can say all the more easily since I wrote it myself.”
Even Jean Michel Fourgous, a parliamentary member of Mr. Chirac’s own Union for a Popular Movement, bemoans his party’s refusal to adopt more-transparent and – consultative government. He told Time magazine that the country has “been hijacked by an intellectually brilliant elite that’s dangerously ignorant about the economy.” He notes that while the current government is made up largely of people who call themselves conservative, 80% of ministers have never worked at all in the private sector. The few who have “are tolerated, but shoved into subaltern posts.”
Mr. Sarkozy acknowledges he is now part of the elites of French society, but he pledges he will govern in a way that is beyond their interests. “If I’m elected,” he told reporters before yesterday’s balloting, “it won’t be the press, the polls, the elites who chose me. It will have been the people.” His clearest break with much of French elite opinion came last week when he made a dramatic speech about a “moral crisis” the nation entered in 1968, when the “moral and intellectual relativism” embodied by the 1968 student revolt that helped topple President Charles de Gaulle from power the next year. Today, many philosophers and media commentators routinely pay homage to “the élan of 1968” and lament that the revolutionary spirit of the time did not succeed in transforming bourgeois French society more than it did.
Mr. Sarkozy took on that ’60s nostalgia. He labelled Ms. Royal and her supporters the descendants of the nihilists of 1968, and even appealed to France’s “silent majority” to repudiate the false lessons of that period. He claimed that too many Royal backers continue to hesitate in reacting against riots by “thugs, troublemakers and fraudsters.” He declared this Sunday’s election would settle the “question of whether the heritage of May ’68 should be perpetuated or if it should be liquidated once and for all.”
It appears that Mr. Sarkozy may have found the ultimate “wedge” issue in France, judging by the solid margin he won many traditional working-class neighborhoods that normally support Socialist candidates. Mr. Sarkozy’s triumph provides at least a chance that there will be a real debate on the role of the state in France’s economy and, yes, even some discussion of whether France should be in perpetual conflict with America.
With the victory last year of Angela Merkel, the pro-U.S. leader of Germany, and the impending changeover in power in Britain from pro-American Tony Blair to equally pro-American Labor leader Gordon Brown, there is also at least a chance that Europe will begin to address its problems straight on and avoid needless scapegoating of the U.S. With Mr. Sarkozy’s victory, France’s government looks like it will finally have some energetic adult supervision.