Saturday, March 3, 2007

Whither France?

With the first round of elections in France seven weeks away, the Telegraph peers across the channel to take a look at the state of France and the voters' choices -- Nicholas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal.

Sarkozy is certainly the most pro-U.S. candidate to have graced French politics in many a year, and his instincts seem to be good.

In his thirties he became close to Jacques Chirac, then Mayor of Paris, and rose quickly through the ranks of Chirac's RPR party, although the pair later fell out and now barely speak. By then, Sarkozy had made a reputation for himself as a straight-talking Rightist with an unusual disdain for France's attachment to welfare and workers' "rights". He has balked at the near-ritual obligation to badmouth America, called for the European Union to scale down the grandiosity of its political ambitions, and as Interior Minister condemned mobs of predominantly-Muslim rioters as "scum", demanding tougher controls on immigration.

His opponent is the far left Ms. Royal, an incredibly utopian socialist.

Certainly in comparison to Segolene Royal, his glossily-packaged, 52-year-old socialist rival whose hyper-choreographed campaign appearances resemble electoral karaoke. Hailing from the over-educated administrative elite, Segolene is living proof of the argument that France needs to change. Declaring, before an ashen-faced gathering of business leaders, that "money is my lifelong enemy", she announced plans to strip everyone earning above £30,000 a year of even more of it.

Right now, Sarkozy is leading in the polls. But even if he wins, he will face tremendous problems.
Sarkozy portrays modern France as a failing society; arrogant, workshy and perniciously resistant to change. In contrast, he holds Britain up as an example to be emulated: "London has become the seventh largest French city," he writes. "It ceaselessly sucks in thousands of young French people - including my own daughter - who find it easier to succeed there than at home. How shameful is it that a young person wanting to get on is obliged to leave?"
. . . .
France's idea of immunity to progress is a dangerous one. [A French business owner] will typically be paying 50 per cent income tax and 19.6 per cent VAT, plus property tax, business tax, rubbish collection tax, licensed premises tax, and a special "solidarity" tax to support the unemployed. Sarko knows it can't go on. "How," he asks, "can we continue to believe that by taxing more and working fewer hours, we can ever create wealth and jobs?" His problem is that the voters know he knows it, and an alarming number of them wish he didn't.

We will have to wait for the results of the election. But if, as seems probable, Sarkozy wins, we may be treated to a sea change in French politics and foreign policy. Regardless, any change has to be an improvement over the current craven and oh so cynical Mr. Chirac.

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