Chang­ing France

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

French vot­ers sent a clear sig­nal on May 6 that they are ready for change. Ready, as the vic­to­ri­ous Ni­co­las Sarkozy said, “to make a break with the ideas, the cus­toms and the be­hav­ior of the past” and to “re­store the sta­tus of work, author­ity, stan­dards, re­spect, merit.” Mr. Sarkozy, the cen­ter­right can­di­date, de­feated Se­go­lene Royal, the So­cial­ist can­di­date, in the sec­ond round of France’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Un­like 2002, vot­ers had a true choice be­tween France’s two main po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and they handed Mr. Sarkozy both a vic­tory and a man­date for his agenda of change. With the high­est turnout in nearly 20 years — a sub­stan­tial 84 per­cent — Mr. Sarkozy bested Miss Royal by six points, 53 per­cent to 47 per­cent.

Mr. Sarkozy’s as­cen­sion to the pres­i­dency is good for France and good for trans-At­lantic re­la­tions, and a once-again ro­bust French econ­omy will be a boon to the world econ­omy. To start with, Mr. Sarkozy brings the bet­ter plan to re­store France’s econ­omy, slip­ping in its po­si­tion in the world and sad­dled with in­creas­ingly high un­em­ploy­ment and bur­den­some pub­lic debt. Sec­ond, Mr. Sarkozy has shown a will­ing­ness to openly and can­didly dis­cuss im­mi­gra­tion, as­sim­ila- tion and na­tional iden­tity — ques­tions that French of­fi­cials have shown an aver­sion to an­swer­ing. Mr. Sarkozy is also a fan of Bri­tain and of Amer­ica, and not afraid to say so. “I’d like to ap­peal to our Amer­i­can friends to say that they can count on our friend­ship,” he said. With Mr. Sarkozy join­ing Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, who as head of the EU has touted closer ties be­tween Europe and the United States, the trans-At­lantic out­look looks more aus­pi­cious than it has in many years.

Still ahead are par­lia­men­tary elec- tions, sched­uled for June 10 and 17. Mr. Sarkozy needs a strong show­ing from his cen­ter-right party so that he has an ally in the Na­tional As­sem­bly. Mo­men­tum is clearly on their side. For Miss Royal’s So­cial­ists, on the other hand, the fu­ture looks far more tu­mul­tuous. In­tra-party con­flicts marked her cam­paign and have con­tin­ued in the af­ter­math of her de­feat, with fin­ger­point­ing be­tween the left and the cen­ter.

“With your sur­name,” Mr. Sarkozy’s Hun­gar­ian-born fa­ther, an im­mi­grant, said to him, “and the marks you get at school, you will never suc­ceed in France.” Nei­ther stopped Mr. Sarkozy, but his tough­est fights lie ahead. His eco­nomic agenda will face a strong op­po­si­tion that is will­ing to take to the streets. Jac­ques Chirac saw mas­sive strikes in 1995 af­ter try­ing to re­duce pub­lic pen­sions, and he was forced to re­peal a mea­sure that sought to com­bat youth un­em­ploy­ment by mak­ing it eas­ier for com­pa­nies to hire and fire young work­ers af­ter stu­dents took to the streets for weeks on end. To en­act the struc­tural changes needed to shake up France’s stag­nant econ­omy, Mr. Sarkozy will have to face down this op­po­si­tion bet­ter than his pre­de­ces­sor.

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