After whirlwind first 100 days, can Sarkozy stay the course?

13th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

Nicolas Sarkozy's hectic first 100 days in power have earned him the nickname of "hyperpresident," but analysts are waiting to see if France's new leader can keep up the dizzying pace to deliver his promised reforms.

13 August 2007

PARIS - For three months, France's new-look president has grabbed the spotlight: jetting off to meet world leaders, micro-managing his government team, even dropping by to comment on the Tour de France or doling out advice to the French rugby team.

"You cannot switch on your TV set without seeing Sarkozy," said Jacques Pilhan, a political communications professor. "His strategy is to saturate the media, a kind of carpet bombing. It's a complete break with his predecessors."

"Nicolas Sarkozy has turned his presidency into a reality TV show," wrote the Marianne weekly. "It's about an ordinary guy who's been given extraordinary powers. His goal: to save an ageing country from decline."

Whether posing with the glamorous first lady Cecilia Sarkozy, jogging before the cameras or hosting a rock concert on France's national holiday, everything about the 52-year-old marks a break with the days of Jacques Chirac.

Nicolas and Cecilia Sarkozy

Sarkozy's government line-up - with half the posts going to women and ministers from the left and ethnic minorities - disarmed the opposition.

According to an IFOP poll published in the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, 64 percent of the French approve of his up-front style of government.
For Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), "Sarkozy has rallied the French people behind him with a government that embodies the new face of France."

His choice of summer holiday spot, an elite US lakeside property an hour's drive from the residence of his US counterpart George W. Bush, tells the world: "The days of Gaullist France are over. A page has been turned, and now is time for a new France, young and without hang-ups," Moisi said.

The president has defied French bourgeois convention by displaying a relaxed attitude towards money, from his public friendship with business moguls to a taste for luxury yachts and Italian suits.

Though mocked by part of the establishment - Marianne dubbed him "leader of the bling-bling right" - polls suggest ordinary French people are unfazed by the display of wealth.

But beyond the image revolution, how much has Sarkozy achieved so far?

On the diplomatic front, he notched up a big success early on by helping to break the deadlock on a new European treaty: "Suddenly, France was no longer a source of problems but of solutions," said Dominique Reynie of the Sciences Po political science institute.

But his refusal to commit to reining in France's budget deficit, and his decision to send his wife to Tripoli for the final stage of European Union negotiations on the release of the Bulgarian medics imprisoned in Libya have strained ties with Europe.

"There is already a lot of tension between Sarkozy and the EU - he has really, really, irritated a lot of people," said Moisi.

The Libyan case may come back to bite him, with France's left-wing opposition demanding a parliamentary inquiry to determine whether Sarkozy traded the medics' release for an arms deal with Libya.  

The Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian Doctor facing death sentences in Libya

Although the IFOP poll shows 80 percent of the French approve of Sarkozy's role in freeing the medics, Reynie believes he took "a huge risk."

"If at some point there were an attack in which Libya was involved, it would be catastrophic for him."

At home, Sarkozy used a special session of parliament to push through a first set of reforms, including a package of tax breaks, a law giving universities more autonomy, tougher sentencing rules for repeat young offenders, and a law to keep public transport running during strikes.

Hugely popular, the tax measures have been approved by between 64 and 87 percent of the public, according to IFOP, while 84 percent back the crime bill and 72 the strike measures.

But critics worry Sarkozy has started to renege on promises to reduce state spending, shelving plans to raise tuition fees in public universities and watering down a key, but unpopular pledge, to cut civil service jobs, from 35,000 to 22,000 in 2008.

Reforms scheduled for after the summer, including reforming employment contract law, private pension funding and the health insurance deficit, will require making unpopular choices.

But Sarkozy appears in no doubt he can deliver the goods: he has warned his ministers - away on a brief summer break -- that he intends to ramp up the work pace when they get back.


Subject: French news

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