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Brookings: Nicolas Sarkozy: The Hyperpresident

Author: Philip H. Gordon, Senior Fellow
November 1, 2007



Writing in the American Interest, Philip Gordon marvels at the phenomenon that is Nicolas Sarkozy, "The Hyperpresident." Gordon explains that despite breaking with tradition, Sarkozy is the most popular French leader in half a century. While his ambitious reforms may still fall short, one thing is certain: "France will never be the same again."


It would be easy to predict the coming implosion of Nicolas Sarkozy’s still-new presidency. The French, after all, are notoriously averse to change and have a proven track record of stopping reforms in their tracks—just ask former President Jacques Chirac, who in 1995 saw his modest plans for reforming the welfare state rejected by hundreds of thousands of angry protesters. Or ask former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, whose even more modest efforts to tweak the French youth labor market ten years later were similarly rejected, this time by the very young people the reforms were designed to help.

Even when the French do not bring down governments with their feet they bring them down with their ballots—prior to 2007, in every parliamentary election since 1 978 the French had voted out of office whichever party they had voted in the previous time. (Two presidents during that period, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, did get re-elected, but in both cases not until after the majority in parliament had gone to the opposition.) Add to all this the non-stop pace of the ambitious Sarkozy and his defiant attitude toward French political and social conventions (for example, by vacationing in America, taking boating trips with rich friends, and jogging in shorts), and all the conditions seem to be in place for a regime that will trip up, exhaust itself, or create too many enemies before it gets anything done.

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