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French president Nicolas Sarkozy faced to great difficulties at the end of 2007, by GEAB

Last September 16th, in the 17th issue of the GEAB, LEAP/E2020 predicted a difficult end of the year for France’s brand new president

More contextually but not less significantly, the new French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s arrival into the European game is becoming a source of enduring tensions in the EU.

Firstly, his personal attitude, mostly preoccupied by his own image in the French opinion and systematically drawing to himself the media covers of common events (summits, Bulgarian nurses’ release, EU nomination for IMF…) hurts the feelings of other EU leaders, such as the German chancellor’s. Secondly, his dependence on the French oligarchs who made him president, bring him to tackle all the issues involving French economic interests under a sole Franco-French angle, thus exasperating his European partners. Lastly, his exacerbated pro-atlanticism (on the model as Silvio Berlusconi’s, Jose-Maria Aznar’s or Tony Blair’s) casts large shadows of uncertainty over France’s international position (return to NATO or not, increased military support to the US in Afghanistan or not, pursuance of a specific African policy or not, end of Arab policy or not, etc…). For an average-sized country with international aspirations such as France, these uncertainties are dangerous and a very intriguing feature for partners who, on their part, rather tend to increase the distance with Washington.

On domestic issues, the new French president’s virtualism (he seems to believe that he can run the country as he took it, i.e. by means of all-round promises), his absolute dependence on his media supports (medias and pollsters, all of them in the hands of a bunch of oligarchs with diverging interests), his ideological mistake to cut taxes at the precise moment when a trend reversal hits the economy as a result of the US financial crisis, the sentiment that he is gradually giving up on his opposition to Turkey’s EU accession, his hesitations to undertake the social and economic reforms he promised, the growing contradiction between his pro-atlanticism and the US distress in a France still overwhelmingly hostile to any form of atlanticism,… all these elements make LEAP/E2020 identify the end of 2007 as the time when trends will reverse for Nicolas Sarkozy. Indeed, he was elected by a very heteroclite majority ranging from the traditional extreme-right voter to the centrist “bobo ” [1] coming from well-off social groups. His electoral basis is not stable; and, paradoxically, the near-disappearing French socialist party in the opposition makes the situation even more explosive: without any clear political alternative, discontent will express more roughly, on the street probably, in line with an old French custom.

This impression of increasing vulnerability, for someone who always seems to avoid hard confrontations (beyond stances, his career until today proves it), will probably result in a two-fold demagogic reaction on his part: on the one hand, he will bid up all domestic security- and immigration-related measures; and on the other hand, he will put the blame on the EU (Commission, ECB, partner-countries…) for all the difficulties. France’s European partners, Germany in particular, should get prepared to this and should anticipate hard times for the Franco-German couple in 2008.

The fact remains that the new French president is very vulnerable mediawise. He entirely built his power-conquest on the media. Somehow, LEAP/E2020 considers that France is today faced to a situation quite comparable with the situation that followed Bush’s election in the US when (until his re-election in 2004) the quasi-totality of the US media was serving his cause. In France, this situation should end long before the next presidential election. At the end of 2007 already, part of the media will take their distance with Nicolas Sarkozy: on the one hand, because progressively he will lose the benevolence or this or that supporting-oligarch at the head of the media (Dassault, Lagardère, Bouygues,… [2] ) because he will not be able to cope forever with their diverging interests; on the other hand, because problems pile up and in the end the media will have to mention them. In the beginning, domestic problems will be described; then the government will start being criticised; and in the end, the president’s action will be directly questioned, knowing that Sarkozy, by being present on every case, deprived himself from a « fuse » (his prime minister, François Fillon).

Following pollsters does not help to understand the opinion of French citizens on their president’s action; indeed, these polls are elaborated by companies in the hands of the same supporting-friends of Nicolas Sarkozy. A large number of discussions on this aspect is available from the French web. Concerning French mainstream media, there is no real counter-weight website or paper (apart from the satirical weekly paper « Le Canard Enchaîné »); however the entire French internet (citizen, NGO…) plays this role given up by most of the French press.

To conclude coming back on European issues, if Nicolas Sarkozy’s popularity follows the trend anticipated by LEAP/E2020, it is probable that his attempt to adopt the new treaty by means of a parliamentary ratification will fail: either because he will not manage to convince socialist MPs to bring him their votes (which he needs in order to reach the majority required for this ratification) ; or because the public opinion will force him to organise a referendum (like Jacques Chirac had to on the constitutional project).

Simultaneously, the dramatic increase of the public deficit entailed by the combination of tax cuts and economic slowdown will put France in a very difficult situation on the European level. And, according to LEAP/E2020, it is likely that he Nicolas Sarkozy will have to pay the high price for all the European feelings he hurt these months.

 

[1] « Bobo », French abbreviation for « bourgeois-bohême », and a new symbol for well-off urban classes.

[2] It seems to be the case already with Dassault, as Serge Dassault-owned newspaper Le Figaro turned into a systematic critic of the French government and president.

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