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The GOP’s French Connection

Prepared by: Michael Moran
August 28, 2007


Now three months into his tenure as France’s leader, President Nicolas Sarkozy has made a good start on pledges laid out during his spring campaign. To the dismay of his Socialist opponents, his government has created a new Ministry of National Identity, an effort to allay concerns that immigrants from Muslim and African nations are diluting France’s national character. Sarkozy’s reforms of higher education (FT) passed the National Assembly in late July. He also created a constitutional reform commission (FT) to examine ways to prevent rampant political graft. The next target in his sights, France’s thirty-five-hour workweek, once looked unassailable. Sarkozy’s strategy attacks disincentives (taxes) on working overtime.

Sarkozy has sought to balance these moves through inclusion. He named France’s first minister of North African descent, Rachida Dati. The new justice minister is one of a record seven women in his cabinet. He also tapped a leading Socialist, the renowned humanitarian and Iraq War supporter Bernard Kouchner, cofounder of the Nobel Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders, as his foreign minister. For all this, many analysts believe Sarkozy’s record has been oversimplified. On the Left in France and elsewhere, the caricature usually features “Sarko” wearing Napoleon’s uniform and ordering his gendarmes to chain North African immigrant workers to the Airbus assembly line.

This contrasts with the views of Republicans in the United States. Perhaps overjoyed at the departure of bête noire Jacques Chirac, some leading Republicans cast Sarkozy as a kind of Gallic Ronald Reagan. Mitt Romney, for instance, has called him “a potential blood brother.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), en route to Iraq in early July, stopped in Paris for a meeting (USAToday) with the French leader. Rudy Giuliani biographer Fred Siegel calls Sarkozy (NYPost) “the French Rudy," and Giuliani named Sarkozy’s book, Testimony: France in the Twenty-first Century, as a source of great inspiration. Newt Gingrich’s YouTube channel includes this paean to Sarko.

In fact, Sarkozy’s record so far, experts say, looks more like that of a Social Democrat (OnWallStreet) than a supply-side conservative. In May, as the leaders of the European Union struggled to revive the EU constitution, Sarkozy insisted that Europe’s fifty-year commitment to move toward “free and undistorted competition” be stricken (AFP) from the document. This brought huffs of dismay from the Wall Street Journal. More huffing followed when Sarkozy’s first budget included a $15-billion stimulus package for the French economy. He also has clashed (FT) with Germany’s Angela Merkel over the strength of the euro, which Sarkozy blames for falling French exports. Pointing to similar positions, such as Sarkozy’s commitment to protect French farmers, Washington Post columnist George F. Will says Republicans should “seek happy harbingers elsewhere.”

In his recent dealings with one of Reagan’s arch foes, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, Sarkozy may have lost a few admirers. After the release of five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor held by Libya for nearly a decade, France agreed to sell Libya a nuclear reactor, plus assorted high-performance weapons systems. Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Schwammenthal dubbed the deal “very Ancien Régime.

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