France’s presidential race has finally come to an end with right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant father and a Greek mother, emerging victorious. As soon as the results were announced, I flicked through various satellite television channels, expecting France’s high court to declare the vote void over Sarkozy’s humble origins. However, I soon remembered it was France and that those living outside of it have to take into account the different principles and priorities! This recent French election has been the most exciting of French elections with the highest turnout in 25 years at 85%. France voted for Sarkozy but also voted for several issues. It voted for change and radical economic reform, which were pledged by Sarkozy, and against the leftist candidate Ségolène Royal’s socialism. It voted for strong leadership over a woman’s right to become president. This last point is significant as Sarkozy won 49% of workers’ votes, 32% of votes from the Green Party and environmentalists and 14% of the Communists’ votes, three movements that would have been expected to vote for the left and the leftist candidate. There is the widespread belief amongst the French milieu that politicians and technocrats have lost the ability to communicate with people and their problems. Charles de Gaulle, the Fifth Republic’s most prominent president, believed in the importance of administrative development and founded Ecole Europeanne de Gouvernance (L’ENA). Former students include Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, several cabinet ministers and key corporate executives. Sarkozy does not belong to these elites. He failed his sixth grade and was a mediocre student. Therefore he gained popular acceptance as a non-member of the “superior” L’ENA. Among the French and Europeans, it has been argued that Sarkozy may be France’s Margaret Thatcher and the one who will be able to dismantle France’s complicated cumulative Socialist, economic and social heritage that crippled its advancement and anticipated renaissance. This expectation may be exaggerated and far from reality. Since Sarkozy presented his program that was based on the idea of “la rupture” – a clean break from all elements of the social-solidarity state, which he blames for France’s economic decline, everybody has sought to determine France’s future trend and its outcomes.
Those who are aware of the French political structure and the president’s powers know that he has very extensive powers that include the dissolution of parliament, the submission of important issues to referendum and absolute control over foreign policy. However, they are powers that have the “flavor” of an “elective monarchy,” which means he is accountable to the entire nation and thus makes Sarkozy’s embarking on “reforms and a sharp restructuring process” unlikely. He will have to pass the issue on to his prime minister to venture, which may completely burn his fingers, as the case was with Alain Juppé and Dominique de Villepin under outgoing President Jacques Chirac. It will be a remarkable challenge how Nicolas Sarkozy, who is known for his sternness and dictatorship, will strike a balance between the requirements of the post and those of his program, and between France’s position in Europe and in the world and its relations with America (as a country, administration and a constitution rather than an extreme administration that is counting how long it has left and is facing an unprecedented decline in the approval rates of its performance on popular and global levels). Sarkozy’s position in Europe itself will also be worth observing in light of Germany’s increasing weight, Chancellor Merkel’s sedateness and the imminent rise to power by Tony Blair’s successor.
Europe is heading towards change, so how is Sarkozy going to deal with all of that? With regards to the Middle East, Sarkozy clearly stated that he would follow the American lead.