Sink­ing Sarkozy: Ma­jor­ity in France say he’s failed on pledges

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Andrew Borowiec

PARIS — French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy’s hon­ey­moon with the me­dia didn’t last long.

A year af­ter he was swept to power, Mr. Sarkozy’s pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings have plunged as fast as they had risen. Am­bi­tious projects have re­mained on the draw­ing boards. And 55 per­cent of those who voted for him hope he will not stand again af­ter the end of the present five-year man­date.

Al­though he is still flam­boy­ant and pledg­ing to change France, some­thing has snapped in his re­la­tion­ship with the elec­torate, an­a­lysts say. Some of his projects now seem un­real, oth­ers too costly or un­nec­es­sary.

And the gen­eral pub­lic seemed an­noyed by his pen­chant for lux­ury and high-profile ro­man­tic prob­lems: a di­vorce and an al­most im­me­di­ate re­mar­riage to Carla Bruni, a gui­tar-play­ing singer and for­mer model.

In a gloomy eco­nomic cli­mate, the weekly Paris Match es­ti­mated that 72 per­cent of French­men are un­happy with Mr. Sarkozy’s per­for­mance and 65 per­cent feel that he has not ful­filled his cam­paign prom­ises.

Ac­cord­ing to a tele­phone opin­ion poll Vi­aVoice, six out of ten vot­ers con­sider the Sarkozy pres­i­dency a fail­ure.

To the daily Le Parisien, with a pop­u­lar­ity rat­ing of 36 per­cent, Mr. Sarkozy is the least pop­u­lar of seven pres­i­dents in of­fice over the past 50 years.

Against such a back­ground, pun­dits and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists are spec­u­lat­ing whether France can be re­formed, as the pres­i­dent set out to ac­com­plish, and whether it re­ally wants to be re­formed.

The con­cept of a re­laxed work­place re­mains deeply embed­ded in the coun­try. There is fear of ad­ven­tur­ous or in­no­va­tive projects, and the young in­creas­ingly fa­vor guar­an­teed state jobs with of­ten lav­ish pen­sions, which Mr. Sarkozy wants to cur­tail.

In an ex­cep­tion­ally hum­ble 100minute television broad­cast last month, Mr. Sarkozy ad­mit­ted that he had made mis­takes dur­ing his first year in of­fice, that he un­der­stood the pub­lic’s dis­ap­point­ment but that, nev­er­the­less, his pro­gram would con­tinue.

“The set has changed slightly, but the show re­mains ex­actly the same,” quipped the left-wing Lib­er­a­tion daily.

Olivier Duhamel, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science, said, “The crux of the mat­ter is pur­chas­ing power — the French peo­ple’s main ex­pec­ta­tion. And on this prob­lem, I think that he has failed glob­ally.”

In the weeks be­fore Mr. Sarkozy com­pleted his first year in of­fice, there was a run on two books about his pres­i­dency: “The Em­peror Has No Clothes” and “It Will End Badly.”

Mr. Sarkozy has been luck­ier in the field of for­eign re­la­tions, with sev­eral suc­cess­ful trips abroad.

He said that France could re­join NATO’s mil­i­tary struc­ture, which it left in the 1960s un­der Pres­i­dent Charles de Gaulle, but only if a French gen­eral is given a se­nior com­mand post.

He voiced ob­jec­tion to Turkey’s Euro­pean Union can­di­dacy but tried to mol­lify it with a pro­posal to cre­ate a form of “Mediter­ranean Union” linked with the Euro­pean Union.

Turkey has re­jected the for­mula as a sub­sti­tute for its full EU mem­ber­ship.

Per­haps his most sig­nif­i­cant ini­tia­tive was to es­tab­lish closer re­la­tions with the United States af­ter sev­eral years of mu­tual snip­ing.

This plus his ad­mi­ra­tion for U.S. eco­nomic meth­ods and pen­chant for fast food have earned him the nick­name “Sarko the Amer­i­can.”

The am­bi­tious French pres­i­dent also at­tempted to launch a sort of po­lit­i­cal-spir­i­tual re­vival, in which France would be­come “the soul of new Europe.” Not many of his peers in the Euro­pean Union were en­thu­si­as­tic.

Still, some are in­trigued by Mr. Sarkozy’s en­ergy, his op­ti­mism and re­lent­less ideas.

“Meet­ings with him are not bad,” Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel was quoted as say­ing. “He lis­tens, he agrees, and then he turns things around. It’s a chal­lenge.”

Mr. Sarkozy has been more di­rect — and blunt — in deal­ing with his aides. He uses strong lan­guage, and on one oc­ca­sion, he de­scribed diplo­mats of the French For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry as “id­iots.”

He was elected with a strong ma­jor­ity on a plat­form of far reach­ing re­forms which, he claimed, France needed.

He was scathingly crit­i­cal of ob­so­lete in­sti­tu­tions — the well-en­trenched civil ser­vice, the ed­uca- tional sys­tem and even hospi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion.

As part of “na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” he in­vited sev­eral mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion in his Cabi­net, in­clud­ing Bernard Kouch­ner, a prom­i­nent so­cial­ist who be­came for­eign min­is­ter and helped Mr. Sarkozy to align for­eign pol­icy closer with that of the United States.

This sig­nif­i­cant change has made rel­a­tively lit­tle im­pact on the French elec­torate, which is pre­oc­cu­pied with ris­ing prices and the costs in­volved in the planned re­forms.

Those re­forms in­clude la­bor con­tracts, tax cred­its for cor­po­rate re­search, re­form of un­em­ploy­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion and re­duc­tion of spe­cial re­tire­ment priv­i­leges for pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers.

He has not man­aged to abol­ish the con­tro­ver­sial 35-hour work­week, in­tro­duced by the pre­vi­ous so­cial­ist ad­min­is­tra­tion but has al­lowed tax breaks on over­time, cost­ing the gov­ern­ment nearly $10 bil­lion a year.

His fa­vorite slo­gan has been “work more to earn more,” but the pub­lic has be­come in­creas­ingly skep­ti­cal, while the quick and dra­matic fall of his pop­u­lar­ity has stunned many.

In the com­ing weeks, the be­lea­guered French pres­i­dent is fac­ing mass la­bor union demon­stra­tions against a plan to make peo­ple work longer for pen­sions.

Apart from neg­a­tive opin­ion polls, the coun­try’s mood was clearly demon­strated by the March lo­cal elec­tions in which his gov­ern­ing Union for a Pop­u­lar Move­ment suf­fered a ma­jor set­back in­ter­preted as a clear warn­ing to Mr. Sarkozy. Yet the un­daunted pres­i­dent has per­sisted.

“I was elected to re­ha­bil­i­tate work, to give he French back their pride,” he said af­ter the lo­cal elec­tions.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Michaelle Jean, gov­er­nor gen­eral of Canada, and French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy visit the Cana­dian mil­i­tary ceme­tery in Beny-Re­viers, Nor­mandy, ear­lier this month dur­ing cer­e­monies to com­mem­o­rate the 1945 ar­mistice and the Al­lied vic­tory over Nazi Ger­many in World War II.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.