Monday, May 07, 2007

Sarkozy's Way

Nicolas Sarkozy has won the French presidential election. But despite his six point victory over the Socialist contender Segolene Royal, he won't get to carry through much of his centre-right agenda without further success in the parliamentary polls next month. No sooner has one election finally finished, than another begins.

There's a lot of chat over whether Sarkozy might turn out to be a 'Margaret Thatcher in trousers' - ready to shatter the strength of France's unions in driving through unpopular but necessary change. That analogy is stretching things a bit, but although the basic point is fair enough, there are two main differences between the France of 2007 and the Britain of 1979.

The first is that France isn't a country on its knees as Britain was back then, and that's got a lot to do with French pride in their own nation. When French people go away for a couple of days after their 35-hour working week, they drive off in their Renaults to their holiday homes in Provence, eating French cheese and drinking plenty of French wine. When Brits do the same, we fly off on Ryanair to Bulgaria. More French money stays within France, which helps the economy.

The other main reason why Sarkozy won't be able to come over all Maggie on us, is because he doesn't have enough support among the people to pursue a really radical set of policies. Even if he does do well in June's parliamentary elections, he'll face a lot of opposition including public disorder to get through even relatively minor reforms. We may see him manage to get rid of that 35-hour week, and maybe cut taxes a little, but don't expect France to change too much. The French people don't really want it to.

1 comment:

NewsElephant said...

Aren't all Presidential systems hamstrung when it comes to implementing unpopular reforms? The electoral system in the UK puts much greater power in the hands of the PM.

If the electorate gets mid-term nerves in the UK, then a few local councils change hands (or the odd devolved parliament); if this happens in France or the US then the President can suddenly find that they have a legislature run by the opposition.

Which makes a bit bizarre that we sometimes accuse PMs of behaving in a Presidential manner.