Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential election triumph in May, and now the victory of his party, the UMP, in the parliamentary election, has created the most favorable opportunity in decades for deep structural reform in France. Not only did Sarkozy win the presidency with 53% of the vote, but his approval rating has since soared, to 62%, after he formed an inclusive government with high-ranking recruits from the opposition.
In the first round of the parliamentary election, the UMP won a record-high 40% of the vote. While voters denied the UMP a landslide victory in the second round, its overall win meant that the governing party retained its legislative majority for the first time in 29 years.
In the days following his election, Sarkozy brought France “back to Europe,” reinvigorating the Franco-German partnership and giving decisive support to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s campaign to revive the European Union’s draft constitutional treaty. He demonstrated pragmatism by not vetoing ongoing EU accession negotiations with Turkey, thus avoiding unnecessary confrontation with Great Britain and Spain, despite maintaining his long-term opposition to full membership for Turkey. Likewise, his government’s discreet silence in the wake of the European Central Bank’s latest interest rate increase constitutes eloquent recognition of the ECB’s independence.
But how will Sarkozy and his government respond to France’s internal challenges? With anemic growth, unemployment stuck between 9% and 10% for more than 20 years, and immigrant ghettos that vacillate between lawlessness and despair, France is indeed one of the sick men of Europe. Where adaptation to ruthless international competition and rapid technological change calls for flexibility and individual responsibility, the dominant culture in France continues to be one of assistance and entitlement.