Sarkozy argues for less imperial presidency

12th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 12, 2006 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, France's ambitious ruling party chief and hot contender to be the country's next leader, proposed radical changes to the French system of government Thursday to make the president more accountable to the nation.

PARIS, Jan 12, 2006 (AFP) -  Nicolas Sarkozy, France's ambitious ruling party chief and hot contender to be the country's next leader, proposed radical changes to the French system of government Thursday to make the president more accountable to the nation.

In an implicit criticism of the incumbent Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy said future presidents should no longer limit themselves to setting the broad outlines of policy, but should take part in the day-to-day governing of the country.

The role of the president-appointed prime minister should be reduced to that of governmental coordinator, the number of ministers kept by law to 15, and the president should be obliged to appear before the National Assembly to explain his programme, Sarkozy recommended.

The Assembly should also play a greater role in determining policy on foreign and defence affairs and the European Union, which have been until now regarded as the presidential preserve, he said.

The 50-year-old head of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) — who is also France's interior minister — was speaking before about 600 journalists at a traditional New Year's greeting ceremony for the press.

He drew laughter when — in a clear reference to Chirac's refusal to rule out running for a third term at elections in May 2007 — he said that the number of presidential mandates should be kept to two, as in the United States.

"The energy spent on staying (in power) is not spent on doing," he said.

Sarkozy has spoken critically in the past about the country's 1958 Fifth Republic constitution — devised by wartime hero Charles de Gaulle — which he believes gives the president unhealthy protection from democratic criticism.

"Rather than a president who presides we need a president who leads. The future president will inevitably be different from the ones who came before," he said.

Sarkozy heads the list of likely right-wing candidates to replace Chirac next year, advocating a programme of "rupture" from long-standing policies in order to free France from a cycle of high unemployment, low growth and dejected national morale.

His call for institutional change seemed intended to set him apart from the UMP's other presidential contender — Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin — who represents continuity with the Chirac era.

Among other policy initiatives, Sarkozy called on the European Union to resume work on its planned constitution which was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands last year.

A shorter version of the document focussing exclusively on procedural mechanics such as voting weights and the role of the EU presidency should be formulated and then submitted to the 25 parliaments for approval, he said.

On domestic issues he called for a long-term plan to reduce the number of civil servants, a mimimum service law to prevent disruption in transport strikes, and freedom for universities to raise money from private sources.

Speaking as interior minister, he said a forthcoming law on immigration would fix quotas for new arrivals in France, limit rights to family unification and facilitate visas for professionally qualified immigrants — without encouraging a brain-drain from countries of origin.

The minister refused to comment on news that his wife Cecilia — who left him amid much publicity last year — had returned to his side.

"Last year I read many articles about what was supposed to have happened to me, and that was fair enough because I had spoken rather too much about it. Back then you said I should be more discreet, so that is what I am going to be," he told the assembled journalists.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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