Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sea Change in France

An impressive 85% of eligible French voters show up at the polls to vote for President. Nicolas Sarkozy wins the election and in his acceptance speech declares: “I want to issue an appeal to our American friends, to tell them that they can count on our friendship, which has been forged in the tragedies of history which we have faced together”. An overtly US friendly candidate wins with 53% of the French vote. This is good news.

Yahoo News: Sarkozy will take over from Chirac on May 16, and has promised to act quickly to enact key items of his manifesto. His campaign was based on the theme of "la rupture" -- a clean break from past policies which he blamed for creating France's runaway debt, high unemployment and festering discontent in the high-immigration suburbs. After legislative elections in June -- in which he will seek a clear majority for the UMP and its allies -- he plans a special National Assembly session to set off his reform drive.

These include the abolition of tax on overtime, big cuts in inheritance tax, a law guaranteeing minimum service in transport strikes, and rules to oblige the unemployed to take up offered work. On the social front he has pledged minimum jail terms for serial offenders and tougher rules to make it harder for immigrants to bring extended families to France. His right-wing programme was in sharp contrast to Royal's promise to extend state protection, create 500,000 jobs, and increase the minimum wage.

It is good to remember that a right winger in French politics is analogous to an American centrist Democrat. Still this result shows that much of the public understands that the government guaranteed easy life under socialism is unsustainable. The French do not want to give up the welfare state and will question and resist the restructuring process, but a majority concedes changes are undeniably needed.

Defeated Socialists search for scapegoats: It is the party’s third consecutive presidential defeat. The Socialists now face the question of whether they can ever regain power without ditching their anti-capitalist rhetoric, as the mainstream left has done across almost all of Europe.

Moderates attracted to her early campaign were disappointed by her manifesto, filled with generous spending pledges and little indication of how to fund them. Party disunity exploded into public view when Eric Besson, her economic adviser, quit saying she was “dangerous for France” and joined the Sarkozy campaign.

The left needs to give up their dream of good mother government and convert to the goal of improving the weaknesses within capitalism. Fausta's Blog and Captains Quarters have roundups of the world reaction to this sea change in Europe.