The Limits of Bonapartism

PARIS – After four decades, France has returned to NATO’s unified military command. At a stroke, President Nicolas Sarkozy overturned one of the pillars of French policy – and of the legacy of Charles de Gaulle, the founder of Sarkozy’s own political party.

The decision is consistent with the way Sarkozy has governed since his election in 2007. Whether he is seeking to reform France’s judicial system, redrawing its administrative map, proposing a new alliance of Mediterranean countries, or seeming to end France’s ambiguous foreign policy of being both aligned and not aligned with the United States, Sarkozy is nothing if not ambitious.

The problem is that far too many of Sarkozy’s decisions have proved purely symbolic, like the ill-fated Mediterranean Union; badly conceived, such as judicial reform, which is opposed by virtually the entire legal profession; or nakedly self-serving, like the administrative reform, which somehow managed to abolish only those departments and regional administrations controlled by the opposition Socialists.

Many in Sarkozy’s governing UMP have become increasingly public in expressing their unhappiness with his decision-making method. In effect, rather than according serious room for decision-making to his prime minister, François Fillon, or to Fillon’s cabinet, Sarkozy has arrogated almost every lever of power to himself and his advisers within the Élysée Palace.