26 avril 2007

Fixing France

Comment les américains voient le second tour de la campagne électorale française, ou prendre exemple sur Thatcher et Reagan pour relancer la machine.
Par Jason Notte, Metro New York, aujourd'hui.
[For the record... Simon Serfaty, foreign policy expert]
INTERVIEW. The largest obstacle to France’s future is not the upcoming presidential runoff election, but the reforms that may follow. With conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Ségolène Royal set to face off in a few weeks, France faces economic and cultural crises as it searches for its place in the new Europe. Simon Serfaty, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and professor of U.S. foreign policy at Old Dominion University, says it may take a strategy similar to that used by President Reagan to cure what is ailing France.

What are the stakes going into this runoff?

I would compare these elections, for the French, to the elections in the U.K. in 1979 or even in the U.S. in 1980. Relaunching, if you will, what the French are willing to undertake. [Francois] Mitterrand stayed in office for 14 years and [Jacques] Chirac stayed in office for 12 years. Neither of them did for France what either [British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher or Reagan did — giving a new sense of life to political life. The stakes are: Is France going left of center or to the right?

What have been the defining issues of this campaign?

It’s related to French society. How do you break the emerging gaps between the newcomers and have-nots and the others? Do you do it in the reasonably forceful way Sarkozy wants or the compassionate way, which is what Royal supposedly wants to do? I think if Sarkozy wins, which is likely to be the case, he will be tested from the moment he comes in. He will immediately have to set in motion a policy that forces the nation into changing its ways, adapting at the level of the citizens.

How will this campaign affect France’s place in the global community?

We don’t need a Europe that works one state at a time, as we found out in the debate over Iraq. For Europeans to be able to play the role, they need a coherent and performing France. It’s expected that a new French government, especially if it comes from the right of the spectrum, would be able to work out a new relationship with the U.S.

What are the historical implications?

It’s a piece of a string of elections that have been taking place since 2004 and will continue through 2009. The first was in Spain when [Jose Maria] Anzar was defeated. Since then elections in Germany, Poland, France and soon in the U.K., Russia and the U.S. will change completely the political landscape. The last time something of this nature happened was 1979-1983.

Because of Sarkozy’s social similarities to Reagan or Thatcher, does he have the edge?

With the benefit of hindsight, the U.K. and the U.S. did well in the 1990s because they had the 1980s. Nothing happened with the French. Mitterrand wanted to move his country very much to the left and considered pulling out of the European community. When he couldn’t, he let things go. Chirac tried some serious reforms in 1995 and was challenged in the streets and he backed off. This is where Sarkozy will be challenged because he may implement neoliberal reforms. I think Royal may be tempted to do the same, honestly, because you can’t escape it anymore. You can’t have a 35-hour workweek in the context of the global economy.

What does this do to the broad sense of French identity?

There’s something ludicrous to insist on the notion of French identity, because it is defined mostly by memory. What is going to happen over the next couple of years is an attempt to acknowledge its place in the European Union and an attempt to diminish the specific nature of France that will be met with a great deal of resistance.

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