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Sarkozy — hope for France?

Posted by Richard on May 2, 2007

(UPDATE, 5/6: He won easily . Vive la France!) 

France's run-off election is Sunday, May 6, and polling data from last weekend showed center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy with a 53%-47% lead over Socialist Ségolène Royal. If Sarkozy wins, and if he lives up to his promise and holds true to his own rhetoric, he just may pull France out of its death spiral. I sincerely hope so — I've done my share of good-humored France-bashing, but it saddens me to see what's been happening to that once-great country.

Sarkozy may not be a Thatcher or Reagan, but he's as close as the French have come in quite a long time — a Gallic Thatcher who just may be able to snatch France back from the socialist decay and decline and the social disintegration that have all been accelerating in recent years. He recently pointed the finger of blame for France's woes directly at aging 60s radicals and their intellectual heirs:

A week before the climax of France's presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy, the neo-Gaullist favourite, yesterday delivered a striking show of force as he attacked the leftwing "heirs of May 1968" in the biggest rally of the campaign so far.

Mr Sarkozy blamed the "moral crisis" in France today – including violent crime, rebellious youth, lazy benefit claimants, uncontrolled immigration and corrupt company bosses – on the social revolution sparked by student protests in the French capital almost 40 years ago.

He presented himself as the "candidate of the people" and listed his values as "justice, effort, work, merit and reward".

Mr Sarkozy blamed "May '68" for eroding the moral values of capitalism and said this had contributed to the current controversy over failed company bosses receiving big "golden parachutes". "The heirs of May '68 have undermined the values of citizenship," he said. The biggest cheer came as he quoted Ms Royal's reaction to the riots by hundreds of youths in Paris's Gare du Nord train station last month, which she blamed on "a gulf between the youth and the police".

At times, Sarkozy is downright inspiring and, well, Reaganesque. Take, for example, a speech he made in London earlier this year to French expatriates:

Standing in the heart of the financial district, Sarkozy heaped compliments upon his country's historic enemy. The British capital was, he said, a "town that seems more and more prosperous and dynamic every time I come here." More important, it had become "one of the greatest French cities." He understood, furthermore, that hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen had moved to Britain because "they are risk-takers, and risk is a bad word" in France. With distinctly un-English passion (some things never change), he pleaded with them to come back:

Come home, because together we will make France a great country where everything will be possible, where fathers won't fear for the future of their children, and where everyone will be able to make their plans come true, and be responsible for their own destiny.

Sarkozy sounds like a supply-sider. Here are some snippets from an interview published in the Financial Times, conducted by its sister publication, Les Echos:

Les Echos: Since Ségolène Royal unveiled her ‘Presidential Pact’, do you believe the battle (for the presidency) is becoming a battle between two social projects?

Sarkozy: Yes. We now know where Madame Royal’s project is headed… It’s a return to the era of (former socialist Prime Minister Lionel) Jospin. The values Madame Royal puts to the fore are those of state handouts and mollycoddling, egalitarianism and levelling. She retains the 35 hour week, she doesn’t encourage work, she still doesn’t say if she favours overhauling taxes, but we know she wants to overhaul spending. …

Les Echos: Madame Royal develops the idea of ‘donnant-donnant’ (two-way co-operation). It’s not exactly mollycoddling, is it?

Sarkozy: She may put it thus, but what conclusion does she draw? None. It’s the same for the reform of the state. It’s the same for public debt. She judges the level “unsustainable” but what does she announce? More spending. When I talk about rights and duties, I am precise: no minimum benefits without working in exchange; no papers to stay in France long-term if one can’t write, if one can’t read, if one can’t speak French; no increase in minimum pensions without consolidation of the pension system. …

Les Echos: When it comes to costing your (Presidential) programmes, you both face the same criticism: plenty of spending and little detail on the cost savings!

Sarkozy: I will of course respond to that charge, but there is no point in getting into the detail of the proposals if you don’t understand the logic that binds them. The cornerstone value of my programme is work. The strategy that gives credibility to everything I do is to say to the French people: ‘You are going to earn more because we are going to work more’. And that is how, collectively, we are going to encourage wealth creation. I want to make France the country of innovation and audacity.

Les Echos: In your programme, is it coherent to want simultaneously to reduce national insurance contributions by €68bn over 10 years and reduce the state debt to 60 per cent of gross domestic product by 2012?

Sarkozy: I didn’t pick the €68bn figure by chance. That reduction will allow us, over 10 years, to reduce the pressure of our tax and national insurance charges to the average of the EU15. … Is it compatible with the debt reduction objective? There are the figures, but above all, there is the logic. My strategy is to think we will reduce our deficits and our debt the day we reinstate (the value of) work.

Les Echos: How much does your programme cost, and how would it be paid for?

Sarkozy: My programme will cost €30bn over five years, of which €15bn comes from reductions in taxes and charges. But I want to add two key points that must be understood. First, it is not the same thing to spend to assist, and to spend to invest. €9bn for research and innovation are not the same as €9bn spent to create new rights without matching responsibilities. On the one hand, there is investment, on the other mollycoddling. Then, you have to realise that lightening national insurance charges and taxes on overtime will bring in Value Added Tax receipts. …

Les Echos: What would be the first sign of commitment to debt reduction?

Sarkozy: The implementation of the principle that we would not replace more than half of the civil servants who retire. During the past 20 years, France has created a million public sector jobs. I would make reform of the state a key presidential project.

Not bad. Not bad at all. I can think of an allegedly free-market, limited government political party in the United States that could use some leaders who speak like that. Bonne chance, Monsieur Sarkozy! 

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