Reprinted from

France Elects a Thatcherite President

Kenneth R. Timmerman
Monday, May 7, 2007

 On Sunday France elected a pro-American, conservative named Nicolas Sarkozy as its new president.

 The 52-year-old who beat back by 10 percentage points his Socialist rival, promises an unabashed Thatcherite agenda for France.

 Sarkozy also replaces the embattled Jacques Chirac, a relic from an earlier age of French politics, who made anti-Americanism his hallmark.

Sarkozy campaigned on a platform of sweeping reforms, pledging to dismantle large portions of the social welfare state and to make France competitive on world markets again.

 He also pledged to reduce taxes, shrink the size of government and shut down redundant government programs.

 Carrying out these reforms will be an uphill battle, but Sarkozy believes that France is ready for a change. The French have lost faith in work, he says. "Reviving the work ethic is at the heart of my program."

 Sarkozy dreams of awakening France from generations of sclerosis, just as Margaret Thatcher did in Britain a generation ago.

Today, Britain is the economic engine driving Europe, and hundreds of thousands of young French men and women have emigrated there, seeking better pay, lower taxes, and greater freedom to create. Even Britain's Labour party under Tony Blair have continued many of Thatcher's pro-growth, free market policies.

 Sarkozy hopes to lure French expats back home by reducing taxes on small businesses, and by making workers more mobile. During Wednesday's debate with his Socialist opponent, Ségolène Royal, he called a key Socialist gain, the 35-hour work week, "a widespread catastrophe for the French economy"

 The son of a French woman and a Hungarian immigrant who fled communism, Sarkozy has won a reputation as someone who wants to break the mold of traditional French politics.

 Well before he decided to run for the presidency, Sarkozy learned from President Bush how to talk over the liberal media and speak directly to voters.

 In November 2002, during a 100-minute television face-off with hostile reporters and opponents from left to right, Sarkozy displayed a mastery of political communication.

 It wasn't merely his ability to shred his opponents' arguments that won him the admiration of ordinary French men and women. It was ability to communicate in short, clear sentences, shucking the bombast that has been the norm of French politics.

 Instead of tired platitudes, Sarkozy is best known for sharp, new formulas, and has never shied away from shocking the politically-correct sensibilities of the media and political elites.

 When riots erupted in the predominantly Muslim slums around Paris in November 2005, Sarkozy called the youths who were ransacking stores and firebombing cars "scum," and said the area needed to be "cleaned out with a power hose."

 Relentlessly attacked for those remarks, Sarkozy never retreated and never expressed regret. On the contrary, he still refers to his actions during the riots with pride.

 When Royal predicted direly last week that more riots would erupt if he were elected, Sarkozy slammed her "war-like language."

 "To say that if people don't vote for one candidate there will be violence is quite simply to refuse the democratic expression of our republic. We've never seen this before, never. It's a worrying form of intolerance," he told Le Parisien.

 "Can't one speak of the nation without being called a nationalist?" he said. "Can't one speak of authority without being called authoritarian?"

Rebuilding a Diminished France

 France has been hurt by the 12-year reign of Jacques Chirac, a presidency remarkable for its immobilism and lack of any noticeable achievement,

Unemployment topped 10 percent when Chirac was first elected in 1995. After spending tens of billions of euros on make-work programs and various social welfare fixes, unemployment still hovers well above 9 percent.

 Internationally, Chirac steered France into a hysterical, anti-American and anti-Israel alliance, siding with Saddam Hussein against Bush, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah against Israel.

 Chirac also alienated Britain's leaders, adding personal snubs to political hostility, going so far as to show up nearly an hour late to Buckingham Palace during a state visit with the queen.

 While foreign policy played virtually no role in the campaign, Sarkozy has pledged quietly to restore the trans-Atlantic alliance and patch up relations with Britain.

 In conciliatory remarks aimed at his harshest opponents in the Muslim ghettos around Paris, Sarkozy offered a new job-training program, "a contract, and a paycheck" to unemployed young Muslims and African immigrants.

 In a video-taped message that played on his website along with the election victory announcement, he pledged a helping hand "so that all can live in dignity from their work."

 But in exchange, he warned, "I ask them to get up early, because no one can hope to be helped by society if he doesn't help himself." "I want to build a republic where everyone can succeed," he added.

 The Bush administration can expect Sarkozy to shed the visceral anti-Americanism of his predecessor, but should not expect Sarkozy to become "an American poodle," as the new president's detractors have claimed.

 In an appearance on the Charlie Rose show in February, his only televised interview in the United States during the campaign, Sarkozy appeared to adopt Chirac's notion of a "multipolar" world.

"We can't have a world that's led by one or two superpowers," he said.

 Then he offered a little Gallic advice.

 "This is a problem in the U.S., and I want to say this to my American friends: The world does not come to a halt at the borders of your country. Beyond the Pacific and beyond the Atlantic, there are men and women like you. Get interested in the world and the world will learn to love you. The world is not just the American empire. There's more to it than that."

 While Americans might find that a tepid statement of friendship, it is a far cry from the harsh criticism and acts of betrayal of his predecessor, Chirac.

 The overwhelming emphasis of Sarkozy's campaign of reforming French political, social, and economic structures will translate into a strong domestic agenda for his presidency.

 He inherits an economy with high unemployment, little job mobility, and a massive social welfare state supported by powerful trade unions that fear losing their influence.

 More than 50 percent of the French national product is spent by the state, compared with 42 percent in Britain and the United States.

Sarkozy frequently evokes the need for a "break" with the past. If he succeeds in his ambitious project of dismantling the social welfare state, he will be hailed as the Margaret Thatcher of France.