by Stephen Tall on April 21, 2012
There’s a danger in looking back on your blog-posts from years gone by — that you remind yourself of your fallibility, a shocking misjudgement. And so it’s with a modicum of distress I see that five years ago I backed Nikolas Sarkozy to become President of France. Yes, really.
He is very far from ideal. He has shown a willingness to court Jean-Marie Le Pen’s supporters, glorying in social authoritarianism, and displaying a nativism bordering on the unpleasant, including an unswerving opposition to Turkey’s EU membership. There are two factors in Mr Sarkozy’s favour, and they’re enough to swing it for me.
First, he accepts and understands the need for France’s economy to liberalise. Though he has, perhaps understandably, soft-peddled during the campaign, his promise of rupture is both bold and correct, signalling an end to the 35-hour week, reductions in personal and corporate taxation, and beginning the essential task of setting France’s universities free of stifling state control.
Secondly, he appears sufficiently resolute to stick to his prescription. I’m not keen on the notion of the ‘smack of firm leadership’, but, after 26 years of drift and fudge, France may just be ready for a politician prepared to lead from the front, rather than the back.
In my partial defence, if Mr Sarkozy had actually followed through on his pledge to engineer le rupture as President maybe my support and his record in office would retrospectively read better. But his hyperactivity has not translated into action: he has failed even to shift the terms of debate to enable France to confront its unsustainable deficit. The only candidate to level with the French people, the centrist Francois Bayrou, is wholly isolated in his plea for some form of fiscal discipline.
As The Economist concluded in its recent controversial analysis of the election choice:
The inconvenient truth is that whoever emerges the victor on May 6th will need to show a tough approach to the deficit, in the face of wary bond markets and possible recession. A President Sarkozy would need to find new budget savings, despite his promise to “protect” the French from austerity. A President Hollande would be forced to postpone or scrap some of his spending pledges, and would get a taste of German steeliness if he insisted on pushing Chancellor Angela Merkel on the subject of reviewing the fiscal compact. Either way, the result would be a shock for the French, and one that neither candidate has remotely prepared them for.
Who to vote for this time? Well, I would definitely choose Mr Bayrou in 2012. And as for the second round run-off between Messrs Sarkozy and Hollande… well, I find that choice as unpalatable as Ken v Boris. In each case, there will be one victor, but millions of losers.