Why it matters that Sarkozy won the French election

It just so happens that – at the start of the Gulf War – the majority of heads of state who supported the war were on the right of the political divide (even Tony Blair is a closet republican, having stolen all of the Tories’ best lines). And it also happens that, in recent European and US elections, there has been a distinct leftward lurch as voters expressed their disapproval by voting for the alternative.

Pundits have been wondering whether this implies a general socialist shift, or whether it was just a vote against being lied to by politicians in general. With Sarkozy’s victory it appears to have been the latter. Why does this matter at all for anyone in the US?

For starters Segolene Royal, Nicolas Sarkozy’s socialist opponent, is even more anti-American than the average Frenchman. She was intending to raise the minimum wage, expand social benefits and lumber French businesses with even more taxes and red-tape. France has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, is flagrantly protectionist (its farmers, who make up about 3% of their economy, receive more than US$ 11 bn a year in subsidies – 10% of the EU’s entire budget), and is central to the European project. What happens in France is essential for the economic success and political direction of the EU.

Sarkozy is far from perfect, aggressively supporting the idea of French national champions (code for “protectionism for French firms considered important to France”) but he is infinitely preferable to the iffy-namby-pamby social state that Royal had in mind.

More importantly, though, Sarkozy is pro-American. Expect France to start siding slightly more frequently with the US and some headway to be made on some of the more intractable disagreements between the EU and US. For starters, expect some harsher words on Iran.

In fact, you might just start seeing a rightward shift in Europe. Tony Blair is leaving behind an unpopular Gordon Brown and a resurgent Conservative Party. Angela Merkel is in charge in Germany.

So, just when it seems common ground may start being found, it is amusing that the next US president is likely to be a Democrat.

9 replies »

  1. For the last five years, the government has ruled like a club class technocracy turning the French society into a low cost democracy. What we need is to champion the vision of the French Republic –

  2. Gavin,

    How the heck does raising the minimum wage in France make Royal anti-American? C’mon, man, you gotta substantiate your point better than that!

  3. Ahem, it’s a list. France is in enough financial trouble, with some of the highest tax rates in the world, and almost the highest unemployment rate in Europe, without adding to the nightmare by making employers even more unhappy to hire people. That particular point (along with the rest of the paragraph) doesn’t have anything to do with Royal’s anti-Americanism just with her general unsuitability to govern. Go read what the British press (especially The Economist) has had to say about her if you want to see hook-line-and-sinker. I have no interest in willy-nilly quoting vast tracks of political-speak.

    And Sarkozy is making all the right noises already.

  4. Hmmm…interesting…just how pro-American is this guy, though…and by pro-American are you implying pro-Bush? And what will that mean for the U.S. if anything? I’m glad to see this got some coverage somewhere.

  5. Gavin,

    This is the fundamental flaw with a lot of stuff you post: You make provocative statements like “Royal is anti-American,” then aggressively avoid substantiating the issue. Remember how open source was a fascist movement?

    Here’s the whole of what you said:

    For starters Segolene Royal, Nicolas Sarkozy

  6. I don’t know, Boz. I mean, maybe. Yeah, Gavin will reach out and smack you in the head with how he frames his arguments, and the open-source/fascist claim was arguably inflammatory. In that case, though, he spent some time drawing parallels and applying themes. I might have argued that he was doing something interesting, yet metaphorical, but in the process invoking a meme that was on the overkill side. Still and all, if you take the value-load of the word “fascist” away it was an awfully interesting and unconventional take on something I think we’ve all been asked to feel very warm and fuzzy about.

    Here I’m not sure I see “Royal is anti-American” as terribly controversial. Royal certainly represents a more extreme view of America than you’ll see from a lot of Euro leaders, and it’s more than fair to say that her policies are at odds with ours, right?

    So Gavin will toss gasoline on the fire and you seem not to like that. Underneath the disagreements over how the arguments are marketed, though, I think there are more interesting substantive debates to be had.

    For instance, on the core of the open-source movement argument, you both have interesting things to say. Opposed, but interesting. I’ve love to get the two of you on a stage for a public debate somewhere.

  7. I’ve come back with an additional article on the importance of France and how France needs to engage the world. I don’t think declaring that Royal is anti-American is even news, let alone inflammatory. I also don’t think that Sarkozy is as evil as he’s painted. He certainly went right in an effort to get elected, but Royal went far left. No doubt the US political debate will be similar with republicans going all anti-abortion and democrats going all anti-war. They’re issues, they resonate.

    As for some of the other queries: Sarkozy isn’t pro-Bush, just recognises that the pan-Atlantic debate has become far too personal and that France has more in common with the US than they do with Iran. Plus, Russian is becoming stroppy and France needs friends too.

    Anyway, I’m pleased to see that the debate has begun and that France and the US will engage now over issues that go beyond name-calling. Something I’m not sure that Royal would have delivered.

  8. Sarkozy is apparently very pro-neocon, which arguably means he’s anti-American. Fortunately, he comes in as Blair, Bush and Berlusconi are out or heading that way and (I hope) at the end of their imperialist adventures. Let’s hope he confines his damage to France.