Monday, May 7, 2007

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My bold prediction about Sarkozy

Nicholas Sarkozy will be the next French President. The Economist spells out what this means:

By sheer drive and political cunning, Mr Sarkozy managed to build up an electoral machine, through the party that Mr Chirac originally founded, and reinvent himself—30 years after entering electoral politics—as a force for change.

The question now is how far Mr Sarkozy will be able to implement some of the controversial reformist elements of his programme. In his election-night speech, he declared that "the French people have chosen change.” Among the first reforms that he intends to bring about are labour-market measures: he plans to secure minimum service on public transport during strikes; to break the big five unions' stranglehold on union representation; to change the unemployment-benefit rules to penalise those who refuse two job offers; and to introduce a single job contract with progressive rights.

Unlike President Chirac, who in 1995 also tried to bring about reform but had been elected on an uncontroversial promise to "heal the social fracture", Mr Sarkozy arrives in office with a clear mandate to change. Not only was his score high, but turn-out—at about 85%—was too. Mr Sarkozy knows that he has to move fast to capitalise on that. On minimum service for trains and buses, for instance, he says that he will let the unions and bosses' organisations try to negotiate a deal until the end of the summer; after that, in the absence of agreement, he will legislate. There will doubtless be resistance, and strikes and street protests are widely predicted. Indeed, on election night there were already clashes between riot police and anti-Sarkozy protesters.

In a prediction that I believe Kevin Drum would label as, "Drezner says the sun will rise in the East tomorrow," I'm not terribly optimistic about Sarkozy's chances for reform implementation. Craig Smith put it nicely in yesterday's NYT Week in Review:
In the months leading up to today’s presidential voting in France, there was a lot of talk about breaking with the past. Don’t bet it will happen.

The French are notoriously resistant to change, and any new president would be hard-pressed to deliver any dramatic departure from the way people here live and work and get along with each other (or don’t)....

Mr. Sarkozy promised pension reforms and limits on unions’ ability to strike. Already, the most critical union federations are warning him to expect people in the streets if he tries to push through either change.

“Radical change in an authoritarian manner will lead to a situation of blockage,” said Michel Grignard, national secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor. French unions are strong in part because the right to strike is written into the Constitution.

And then there is the French love of their vacations.

Parliament usually is away from mid-July to October, but Mr. Sarkozy has suggested he would call a special session to push through legislation while most of the French are vacationing — and when it would be hard for unions to mobilize them.

The unions warned against it. “Whoever is elected president, if he or she thinks there are things that must be decided very fast, in a flash, and pass them in July, watch out,” said Mr. Mailly of the Force Ouvrière federation. “There’ll eventually be a boomerang effect.”

[But what about Franco-American relations? Sarkozy has made repeated statements expressing his fondness for most things American!!--ed.] Yes, why, Sarkozy is clearly the most pro-American French president since.... Jacques Chirac, who when elected president stressed his fondness for America, developed after he worked in the States.

My guess is that Sarkozy will adopt more anti-American rhetoric -- regardless of U.S. foreign policy -- right around the time his first major domestic reform effort shuts down the streets of Paris.

posted by Dan on 05.07.07 at 09:18 AM


I cannot of course comment on France as a whole, but as I mentioned at my blog today ( ), here on the Riviera we have yet another SNCF strike and people seem pretty annoyed by the fact that they (we) can't rely on public transport.

I don't know whether there is enough support but I do think that a lot of people are sick and tired of the unions strikes and protests. Assuming Sarko prepares properly I could imagine him gaining significant support if he used the "Karcher" on the trades union leaders.

posted by: Francis on 05.07.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

Your "bold" prediction, like the piece in yesterday's NYT, is the conventional wisdom on the subject. Perhaps it will turn out to be accurate. But it was probably also the conventional wisdom in May 1979, when Mrs. Thatcher took over. Like her, Sarko has a very clear view of what he wants to accomplish, and why he thinks his proposed changes are essential in the French national interest. But it's even more unlikely that Sarko will fail in bringing about any of the major changes he has been pushing. In 1979, the British unions were militant, too, but met their match in the Iron Lady. Granted, the parliamentary system gave her a freer hand and she accomplished only a part of what she set out to do. But just as Thatcherism has defined British politics since 1979, Sarko seems determined to leave a deep mark on France; over the last few months he has been at pains to spell out the details of how he intends to do that. When he said in his victory speech that France has voted for change, he certainly sounded like a leader who to shake up a status quo that no longer works, and is willing to do what it takes to deliver. This is one instance where I think the conventional wisdom will be proved wrong.

posted by: RHD on 05.07.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

It's very possible that Sarko might "grow" or "shrink" in the job. Certainly the 1979 Tory manifesto was cautious compared to what actually followed; The manifesto promised a little bit of privatization, a little cut in income tax, a little increase in indirect taxes, a little bit of curbing the unions. But we very quickly got a lot of all the above in the UK.

Of course, politicians also go the other way; Ted Heath in 1970 produced a very similar election manifesto to Thatcher'a 1979 effort and then pulled back after a rough economic stretch in 71-72.

I think part of Sarko's problem is that he may not have diagnosed France's troubles accurately. I'm hearing a lot about tax cuts and streamlining social programs, when what France really needs isn't fiscal reform, it's regulatory reform -- liberalizing workplace rules, hiring and firing, making it easier bureaucratically to start a business, maybe a right to work law and so on.

posted by: DB on 05.07.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

Daniel, you disappoint me. But then again, most people who become professors lose their imaginations and succumb to groupthink, so I suppose I should not be so surprised.

Those things between your legs are called something, perhaps you can look it up.

posted by: William Rutledge on 05.07.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

He's gonna get along great with President Romney. I can't wait.

posted by: CPT Mike Foley, USAR on 05.07.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]


Last night on France2 one of Sarkozy’s closest advisors laid out a number of measures that he intends to push through immediately after he takes office. The first concerns the 35 day work week .In and of itself that will make a big difference in they things are run in France.

At the very least his determination to act quickly holds some promise that he will be a different kind of French President.

As far as him trafficking in anti-American rhetoric, that does not seem likely. He had every opportunity to do so during the election campaign. If he failed engage in that kind of demagoguery then, I doubt he will begin to use this tactic now.

Like Merkel ,and Haper here in Canada, Sarkozy is likely to step back from the bash=Anerica tactics of his predecessor. That does not mean that a new strategic relationship between Europe and America will emerge tomorrow. It does mean that the French political class will spend less time proclaiming their moral superiority and more time dealing with their nation’s problems.

posted by: Stephen albert on 05.07.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

In France Union are weak ,wery very weak.
The weakest in the developed wrold.
They are only strong in public sector 25% of the wrok force.
in private sector 3%.
I think since the collapse of Soviet Union the relation with USA are less important, and if USA is still messianic and want to change the world with bomb (Irak, Iran ? ...) we will not follow USA, not by anti-americanism but simply we have no interest.

posted by: JLS on 05.07.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

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