President-elect Sarkozy promises change for France

Monday, May 7, 2007

After winning the presidential election on Sunday, President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy immediately began to lay out his plans for France. Political observers consider the 53% to 47% the victory over Ségolène Royal, a "resounding win," lending credibility to his policies.

Sarkozy is expected to announce his government soon. He left Monday to go on a retreat with his family, while considering his cabinet line-up and strategy for the important parliamentary election in June.

Cheers and riots

Cheering crowds were seen at Place de la Concorde in Paris. "I am proud to be French with him as president. He is a man of action, he doesn't give up," said Laurent Scipio, 55. "We are happy because Sarkozy will let people keep their hard-earned money," said Martine Vellard, 52. "He will discourage people from living off benefits."

Elsewhere people were not so happy. Rioting broke out on the other side of the city at Place de la Bastille. Unrest was reported from several suburbs. "Sarkozy ran a better campaign. Ségolène did not have a positive message. She only rallied those who were against Sarkozy," said Doriana, 22, a Royal supporter. Another had a different view: "Sarkozy won because he manipulated the media," and added "He is just like [Silvio] Berlusconi. We have a fascist in power!"

Tonight is not the victory of one France over another.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Official figures released by police today, said Sunday's unrest saw 730 cars set ablaze and 78 policemen injured across France. 592 people were arrested in the violent protests against Sarkozy.

His party, the Union for a Popular Movement, wants to capitalize on the victory in the upcoming parliamentary elections on June 10 and June 17. "We are going to see how we can give him the biggest parliamentary majority possible so he can put into effect his undertakings," Alliot-Marie said.

"We have to act, the French people expect it. They have given him a real mandate," said Sarkozy's chief of staff, Claude Guéant.

"As he said again last night, he wants to carry out all the commitments he made during the campaign," said Michèle Alliot-Marie, the Defense Minister and high-ranking member of UMP, outside his campaign-headquarters.

Nicolas Sarkozy, who has often been described as a devisive cabinet minister, was conciliatory in his victory speech. "France has given me everything, and now it is my turn to give back to France what France has given me," he said. "Tonight is not the victory of one France over another," he continued and pledged to represent "all of France and leave no one by the side of the road."

Nicolas Sarkozy at a campaign speech in Toulouse on April 12, 2007
Image: Guillaume Paumier.

Domestic issues

Sarkozy is expected to seek an end to the 35-hour workweek which was one the mainstays of his campaign. "I want a France where everyone has a chance - but chance comes for those who work for it," he said. Another part of his so-called "economic revolution" is a pledge to bring unemployment down from current 8.3% to below 5% by 2012, the end of his term.

I want a France where everyone has a chance - but chance comes for those who work for it.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Another reform would be a curb on the amount of power that is held by labor unions. "All attempt to pass things by force would backfire," said Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general of Force Ouvrière one of the five biggest unions in France.

Sarkozy also proposes allowing employees to work overtime, as well as reducing restrictions on hiring and firing staff. He is also expected to tighten immigration laws.

Foreign relations

Sarkozy announced that "France is back in Europe," saying that the European Union should pay more attention to the people it is supposed to protect. During Jacques Chirac's term the European Constitution failed to pass. Sarkozy favors a shorter, less ambitious treaty for changes in the EU to be submitted to the French parliament for approval, and not voted on in a referendum.

"I enjoyed that he said the word 'Europe,' which in the campaign was a non-word," Peter Raduński, a former advisor to Helmut Kohl, said. "I hope it will get us moving forward."

The only issue of foreign policy that Royal and Sarkozy debated was the EU membership of Turkey. Sarkozy is opposed to admission of Turkey. This concerned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who told reporters: "Our heart-felt wish is that we won't hear the kind of statements made by Mr. Sarkozy during his election campaign in our bilateral relations as well, both in contacts between France and Turkey and in the EU process."

Nicolas Sarkozy also wants to thaw the oft frosty relations between France and the United States. "I want to call out to our American friends to tell them that they can count on our friendship," he said shortly after being declared the winner.

"He will be a better partner for the United States," said Peter Radunski. "It was important that he mentioned he wants a good relationship, which for a French president, is very significant."

"He does not come to office with the baggage of a certain kind of anti-Americanism," observed Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"We know that there have been areas of disagreement but on the other hand there are certainly real opportunities to work together on a broad range of issues," White House spokesperson Tony Snow said.

"I mean, it would be nice to have someone who is head of France who doesn't almost have a knee-jerk reaction against the United States," U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer told CNN.

In a recent television interview, Sarkozy said he is opposed to keeping French troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.

"I want to tell all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance, liberty, democracy and humanism, that France will be at their side, that they can count on her," Sarkozy said, hoping to base French foreign policy on a commitment to human rights.


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