Sarkozy’s Great Challenge

There seems little doubt that U.S.-France relations will improve with Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory. But whither France itself? (Michel Gurfinkiel asks this question in the May issue of COMMENTARY.) For the past thirty years, the nation has oscillated between slow growth and stagnation. France, notes Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics, “is now the sick man of Europe.” The official explanation for France’s economic problems—Depression-era levels of long term unemployment, a debt twice that of England, unsustainable pension costs, and a budget deficit well beyond the EU average—has always been the malevolence of the Americans and their predatory capitalism. The French have become, it seems, every bit as talented as the Arab world in projecting their failures onto others.

This election may represent a departure from the idea that France is hindered only by the influence of the perfidious, rapacious Anglo-Americans. And whatever Sarkozy’s future successes or failures, his victory in itself is significant. “This is the end of an era,” remarked Médecins Sans Frontières founder and former cabinet minister Bernard Kouchner, and “the end of French socialism.” “Even Communist China has taken the road of capitalism,” Kouchner also observed. “Is France the only country where we will keep thinking capitalism is perverse, vulgar, and dangerous?” After three consecutive presidential defeats for the Left, the Socialists are in trouble. The strife between those who wish to create a genuinely modern social-democratic party (one that can win elections) and the defenders of the ancien régime may well fragment the Socialists permanently.

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Sarkozy’s Great Challenge

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