The trouble with Sarkozy

Anecdotal evidence suggests no one French voted for Sarko

What is interesting about Sarkozy, or ‘Sarko’ as his name is usually spat, is that you will never find a French person who admits to voting for him.

“Pas moi”, is the usual response, or sometimes “Mais les Français regrettent leur décision”. I tend to think that “Les Français” means “I” in the latter case. However, to admit to liking Sarkozy is about as socially acceptable as being vegetarian. If I ever mention the hated name of Sarkozy in the salle des profs (admittedly a left-wing bunch), people practically hiss, as though there is some kind of bad spirit in the room.

So what’s the problem? Well, Sarko’s outlook is not French at all. He loves business, is fond of money, and thinks that if people want to work hard and become filthy rich as a result they should be able to do so. Essentially, he should have been born British or American.

This was evident in his appearance on TF1 on Monday, when he was asked about the dual salary of the Chairman of Veolia, Henri Proglio, who is also temporarily at the head of EDF, the French energy company. Proglio is therefore earning 1.6 million euros, which has outraged a France in difficult financial circumstances. Sarkozy’s point was that if you want the best, you have to pay for them.

This does not sit well with a nation where to describe oneself as a “militant socialist” is completely normal, and where a 35 hour week was embraced by a majority of people. At my lycée a full time teacher has 18 hours of classes a week. This attitude means the French are healthier and have a better work-life balance, but it does not allow for a 24 hour attitude towards business that now prevails in other western countries.

Sarkozy is essentially trying to remodel France along the lines of Britain or the US, even in small ways like allowing more shops to open on Sundays, encouraging freer overtime, and asking teachers (gasp) to work “heures supplementaires” (Extra hours).

Just today, his rival Dominique Villepin was cleared of all wrongdoing in the Clearstream affair. What had been positive news for Sarkozy, that his nearest rival had attempted to smear him, now leaves him looking vulnerable against a man who will inevitably accuse Sarkozy of smearing him for the smear, and who may run against him for the candidacy for the Presidency in 2012.

Finally, he also wants a national debate on French identity, emphasising the “responsibilités” of each citizen, which comes over as moralising and narrow-minded to his compatriots. This has also led to a huge debate on the burka, which less than 2000 women of 5 million Muslims in France wear, leaving him looking racist.

And yet, and yet, they elected him. Maybe Sarkozy bashing is fashionable, and secretly the French wouldn’t mind the odd Sunday shopping trip, and the opportunity to work overtime to pay for a mortgage or a holiday. Personally I think the traditional way offers a better balance, but even the French can’t, it seems, resist the lure of anglophone riches.

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