A majority of the French say that they want Finance Minister Nicholas Sarkozy to play an important role in shaping the country's future. No Frenchman wants that more than the ambitious "Sarko" himself. So Sarkozy will step down as finance minister next month to take the reigns of the ruling conservative party (UMP), washing his hands of Chirac's muddled government and hoping to use the party machine to bulldoze his way into the Elysée Palace in two years.
But is Sarkozy much different from Chirac? Will he really try to end France's misguided belief in its own economic "exceptionalism?"
The challenge is massive: a 10% unemployment rate that has lasted for 20 years, with more than 20% of people under 25 unemployed, and five million people - nearly a quarter of the working population - employed by the state. The salaries and pensions of these fonctionnaires represent about 40% of the national budget.
This "French exception" also includes vested interests like the railways and agriculture, sectors so powerful that any attempt at reform is immediately frozen by street demonstrations. Indeed, instead of being turned off by such tactics, ordinary Frenchmen and women often turn violent activists like Jose Bové, who destroyed a McDonald's restaurant, into heroes. Can "Supersarko" (the satirical Canard Enchaîné newspaper's nickname) tackle "la France des privileges?"