May 06, 2007

Implications of a Sarkozy Presidency

Source: Stratfor

May 07, 2007 02 00 GMT


Early returns from the second round of France's presidential election indicate the center-right's Nicolas Sarkozy has won, defeating Socialist Segolene Royal. The vote brings to a close a half-year election season as well as a half-decade power struggle between Sarkozy and his mentor, President Jacques Chirac. It also ends the past half-century of French foreign policy dominated by the ideology of former French President Charles de Gaulle.

De Gaulle viewed the French Republic as occupying a powerful position in global affairs, independent of either side during the Cold War. As the most recent successor to de Gaulle's ideology, Chirac attempted to sustain this stance in the years after the Cold War's end -- implementing a series of policies that often complicated Washington-Paris relations. That period of French history -- and the attendant rancor in trans-Atlantic relations -- is over.

But enough about the past. What will the future -- and specifically, the immediate future -- bring?

The short answer is violence. Royal's April 4 warning of impending political violence in case of a Sarkozy win was not solely a last-ditch effort to scare up some votes, but a very real prediction of what could happen. There are three power groups in France that consider such violence justifiable.

The first group comprises France's 2.3 million farmers. Based on whose numbers you use, 40 percent to 75 percent of a French farmer's income is provided by government subsidies. The majority of these come from the European Union. The source of that money, the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has been enshrined in the EU budget since the multinational body's predecessor, the European Economic Community, was formed more than 50 years ago. When the CAP disappears, the entire French way of life in the countryside will change. Faced with the prospect of destitution, the countryside will thus go up in flames.

But not today. Any decision on the CAP must be made along with the other 26 EU member states. Existing agreements mean the CAP is theoretically safe until 2013. That bit of violence will therefore be for another day.

The second group is France's roughly 6 million Arab Muslim immigrants, most of whom hail from North Africa. These are people who have faced cultural and institutional discrimination and have been ghettoized into France's rundown suburbs. This group got its first taste of rioting in 2005. Sarkozy has, to put it lightly, advocated a very firm hand against them. No group stands to be affected more if Sarkozy is able to implement his policies, so the real surprise in the next few days would be if France's Muslims did not rise up in some way involving fire.

The final group is the French left, and specifically the French youth. Whereas in the United States society largely has frowned on public uprising since the American Revolution, violence against the state has become part of the French cultural mythos. The French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror stand out in the French mind because they were the most extreme cases of popular violence, not the only cases. In every generation France has experienced a boiling over of rage against the state, with the most recent iteration being the student riots of 1968.

The cultural grip of those riots persists even today -- something Sarkozy made much of during his campaign -- intimidating the state into allowing a rich set of social benefits for the French. Ultimately, Sarkozy's manifesto boils down to "it is time for France to get with the program" and run a tighter ship. That means less money for state spending, and dare we say, Anglo-style labor reforms.

While farmers will cause problems in the future, and Arabs will cause problems now, it is the left that will determine whether Sarkozy goes down in history as a revolutionary leader or a failed one.

1 comment:

atalante said...

Please...
Do not mix arabs and muslims
In the world, most of the muslims are now asians (pakistanese, chinese, indonesians...) while there are still some 15% arabs who are christians...
Arabs are not turks nor farsis - Machrek is not Maghreb...

The situation is not 6 million potential ennemies of France inside our country.

As everywhere there are gangs (some of arab roots I must admit, but not only).
Please do not forget the quiet muslims, those who deplore what happens with extremists...

Please try to remember that most of the people, whatever their religion just want to leave in peace.
Rememeber that poor are not obliged to be violent and badly raised up while rich are respectful and peaceful...

The world is much much much more complex than just "6 million Arab Muslim immigrants[...]ghettoized into France's rundown suburbs".