A lot of the English-speaking press has had a few misconceptions during these elections.
1) Sarkozy: "France's last last chance
". Some words the Economist associates with Sarkozy which are misleading: "outsider", "reform". I'm not an expert on French domestic policy but this post
takes aim at the Economist's assumptions. Suffice to say that Sarko has been part of the ruling clique for a long time and that "reform" has almost never been the domain of the Right. It was Mitterrand who implemented the economics of "austerity" (beat the deficit) which Giscard failed to do. It was Jospin's government a few years ago who was the most avid of privatisers. It's one of those things... The equivalent of "only Clinton could reform welfare": the Left changes things, the Right, erm, conserves them. That's been the trend so far anyway, remember, Chirac was thought of as a young radical reformist before he took office.
2) The second idea is that Sarkozy is "pro-American", whatever that means. Bayrou has also said he is pro-American, but Clinton's America, not Bush's. Sarko's use refers to American society
as a model (capitalism, "law and order", etc.). I think Americans are misled if they think Sarkozy will change Franco-US relations. Ever since de Gaulle, Americans have assumed that it was individual personalities (rather than clashing interests or a broadly-shared French desire for independence) that caused France's loud obstruction. They have tended to assume that as soon as de Gaulle, or in this case Chirac, passed things would get back to normal and France would start acting like a meek European country, ideally the UK. The entire French political class is "Gaullist" in wanting an independent France (including, because Americans were misled about Mitterrand at first, the Socialist leadership). Sarko is, whatever his faults, clearly a nationalist and patriot. This naturally entails he will defend French interests as hard as de Gaulle, Mitterrand or Chirac. France will continue to oppose US policies when it in her interests to do so, Sarko or no Sarko.
3) The anglophone press has been shamelessly spouting crap about the French economy
. Even the BBC
have been using false numbers and ignorant statements to portray France as being the worst in the developping world, which it simply isn't. French growth has been better than Germany and Italy. French productivity is superior to the US's and the UK's. The only really worrying number is unemployment. The French economy isn't spectacular, but it's basically unremarkable, it doesn't deserve the epithets which make it seem it's the one economy in the developping world suffering from some trouble.
I haven't been following these elections very closely but I note a few things:
Sarkozy - he is clearly fishing for the racist vote. Ostentatious language about "law and order" aimed at ethnic youthes, "controversial" attempts to kick out illegal immigrant squatters, police grabbing the children of illegal immigrants as they leave schools... These are symbolic, spectacular. I don't know if that means Sarko really is going to model of race relations in France on those in the US... You never know until they're in office. I'm not taking his economic reforms seriously at all:
1) There is no correlation between a competitiveness and "small government"
2) He wants to both
lower taxes and the deficit (ring a bell?)
3) There is a correlation between privatisation and economic efficiency in many cases, something the Left has often done.
4) I don't believe in there can be a droite liberal
(or in US english, real conservatives). As soon as so-called conservatives are in power they will meddle in the lives of citizens, be beholden to special interests, and tax (or deficit-spend) as much, or worse, than their rivals.
Segolene - She really hasn't said anything interesting has she? Did I miss it? I think it would be interesting to have the Left in charge:
1) they would have to deal with the problem of reform seriously, with a loud right-wing opposition telling them to spend less, balance budgets and be efficient etc. (a bit like having the Republicans force Clinton to balance the budget (principled) instead of having them in actual power (filthy godless hypocritical pork-barrel deficit spenders))
2) The Left has a long history of innovative and radical reform (going both ways, nationalisation, privatisation, tax increases, tax cuts etc.)
3) The Left would have a much better time convincing unions and other vested interests of necessary reforms, (think Mitterrand and austerity) whereas Sarko would be extremely easy to demonize. She's also pro-gay marriage, goes back to the Socialists' libertarian roots.
Bayrou - Centre-right, hmm, whatever. He's voiced interest in knocking off the Fifth Republic for a parlimentary Sixth. I think that's silly. The presidency is what makes foreign policy special, it gives France a pulpit and personalises her foreign policy, it makes it indepedent of domestic politicking. When we're talking about France's "voice" in the world, and that's all she really has, the Fifth Republic's presidency is fundamental.
The election could go anywhere. I'm leaning for Sego although, admittedly, i haven't followed the election as close as I should and, to be honest, it probably doesn't even matter that much.