The French Presidential Election

April 22, 2007

Despite the fact that quality of life is actually very good in France, there is clearly a French malaise. People have a (real) sense of stagnation as their standard of living is not increasing as fast as it could and countries that used to be 20-30% poorer than France 25 years ago are now wealthier on a GDP per capita basis (e.g.; the UK).

In many cases there is an understanding of the fundamental problems but no political or for that matter popular support for making any changes. Sarkozy is clearly more dedicated to making changes, but I wonder how effective he will be. He has no real knowledge of economics. He still seems to want to protect “poor French companies from evil foreign companies” when they try to take them over and thus perpetrates counter-productive economic nationalism. Moreover, will he have the political courage to stare down a national strike when it inevitably happens as he tries to reform the country?

He does not have the clarity of purpose of a Margaret Thatcher or the smoothness, charm and overall public support Tony Blair had. Arguably it would be easier for a Tony Blair or Bill Clinton-type to reform France. If only for perception reasons, it’s easier to credibly speak of market driven solutions that don’t sacrifice equity when speaking from the left. But no such figure on the left has emerged or is electable. Doing it from the right is likely to be divisive and one can question if Sarkozy will stay the course given his desire to be pragmatic, especially since he does not have the unthreatening image someone like David Cameron has in the UK.

I suppose all this makes him the least bad choice rather than the best choice and it’s going to be interesting to see what ends up happening. I suppose in the meantime I can be cautiously optimistic!

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