Sarkozy is no Reagan, but May be Good Enough

The French have some well known traits: arrogance, not working while complaining about how hard they are working, complaining how low their pay is for not working, striking about having to work too hard, electing spineless leaders that capitulate to bloodthirsty tyrants, and surrendering in the face of adversity, just to name a few.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy does not seem to be cut from the same cloth. In fact, Sarkozy is quickly becoming my favorite Frenchman ever.

Before his election Sarkozy promised to "liquidate the legacy" of the May 1968. That was a defining moment in French history; the moment when conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) was replaced with the liberal morality (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that dominates French society today.

Sarkozy wined and dined union leaders, but did not back down on wanting to make railway, electricity and gas workers work 40 years before being eligible for retirement, rather than the 37½ years that they are now required to work before gaining full pension. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, attempted similar pension reforms in his first year of office back in ’95. After three weeks of strikes that paralyzed the country, Chirac backed down and never attempted anything so bold again.

True to form, transportation unions went on strike and were soon joined by students and civil servants. But after a mere ten days the union opposition is crumbling and it appears Sarkozy has won this round. The difference this time is that the citizens of France were on Sarkozy’s side, not the striking worker’s. Plus, Sarkozy is negotiating, not trying to strong arm the unions into compliance, offering pay raises and other perks.

The result is that Sarkozy has won an enormous victory, giving him the momentum to take on his next target for reform:

But Sarkozy does not plan to back down on the civil servants’ other complaint: his plans to streamline France’s bloated state sector and public administration, the biggest and costliest in Europe. Next year one in three public sector workers who retire will not be replaced. At least 11,000 education jobs will go. Civil servants this week said they would be prepared to strike again.

Even though Sarkozy didn’t play hardball like Reagan did with air traffic controllers or Thatcher did with coal miners, he his still receiving some very impressive kudos from certain quarters. The best quote comes from New Europe:

Maybe it’s still only the first round, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy came close to knocking out the striking rail workers union when they suspended their walkout in the face of his intransigence, unlike his predecessor, the weak-in-the-knees effete milquetoast, Jacques Chirac, who caved in to a similar strike in 1995 faster than you could say “sacre bleu!”

Sarkozy is now headed to China. Let us all hope that he is just as successful as he tries to get the Chinese to allow a fair monetary exchange rate.

Posted November 24th, 2007 Filed in France