In the end, Nicolas Sarkozy’s vows to restore French productivity appear to have made the difference in his runoff with Socialist Segolene Royal. Sarkozy, the UMP candidate, gained 53 percent of the vote and will succeed Jacques Chirac as France’s president. He has signalled a desire to make a clear break (BBC) with his predecessor, pledging to “rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect, merit!” An initial survey (IHT) of voters found that this message resonated among many disgruntled by France’s economic lethargy. Sarkozy included a word of support for the United States as well as a challenge on global warming (Deutsche Welle): “[A] great nation like the United States has the duty to not obstruct the fight against global warming, but on the contrary to head this struggle.”
Both Sarkozy and Royal spent the final two weeks after the raucous first round of the election hoping to win over those who supported centrist candidate Francois Bayrou (IHT) in the first round. They clashed in a televised debate for a final time Wednesday marked by personal animosity but a lack of detail on policy issues (BBC). In a podcast, CFR guest fellow Célia Belin describes the challenges facing Chirac's successor.
By and large, the campaign turned on domestic issues (France 24): a general disgust at the torpor of the French economy during the last years of Chirac’s tenure, and divisions over the proper place of immigrants—in particular, Muslim immigrants—in French society. France ranks first in the world among developed nations in the amount of its gross domestic product spent on the public sector—some 54 percent. It’s on these issues where differences between Sarkozy and Royal were most pronounced. Sarkozy says he would drastically reduce the size of the French bureaucracy by attrition, a stance Royal’s labor union supporters would not countenance (Bloomberg). Some experts question whether either could reform France’s notoriously protective and combative labor system (NYSun).
Foreign policy, on the other hand, took a back seat in the campaign. Indeed, French exit polls in the first round indicated only nine percent of voters say foreign policy is a deciding factor. Bush officials say they found Sarkozy impressive (NYT) in a recent visit, but the fact remains neither candidate had significant foreign policy experience.
Picking up on Sarkozy’s publicly stated admiration for aspects of American society, Royal tried to paint Sarkozy as a “neo-con,” an insult similar to when New York Times columnist David Brooks remarked in 2004 that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s speeches “sound better in the original French.” As the campaign progressed, however, Sarkozy carefully distanced himself from Washington, insisting he would never be subordinate and reasserting his opposition to the Iraq war (Weekly Standard). This CFR.org timeline looks at the long history of U.S.-French relations.