Changes coming in France

| January 16, 2007

Excellent and informative piece by Matthew Kaminski in the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Section explaining current French politics;

The French presidential campaign started in earnest this week after the ruling center-right party tapped Nicolas Sarkozy to face off against Socialist Ségolène Royal. His nomination also brings closer the day that Charles de Gaulle will be laid to rest. Wait, you say, the man is dead and buried since 1970. True, but he’s gone in body, not in spirit. The general has shaped France’s view of the world and itself from the closing days of the last great war. Come May, with a new resident in the Elysée Palace, that looks bound to change.

In Sarko or Ségo, as they’re widely known, France would get its first head of state born after World War II. More than a change of the generational guard looms on the horizon. Neither of the presumptive successors to Jacques Chirac sounds beholden to a Gaullist creed characterized by the prickly defense of the Fifth Republic’s “grandeur” and a knee-jerk anti-Americanism. To judge by their rhetoric, the two leading candidates are willing apostates, particularly on foreign policy. The repercussions should not be minimized.

The 74-year-old Mr. Chirac is a Gaullist par excellence — whether storming out last year when a Frenchman dared speak English at a European Union meeting or grandstanding over Iraq in 2003. “I have a simple principle in foreign affairs. I see what the Americans are doing and I do the opposite. That way, I’m sure to be right,” he’s told colleagues on several occasions, according to Franz-Olivier Giesbert’s “La Tragédie du Président,” a political obituary of Mr. Chirac published last year.

Electoral setbacks, poor health and plummeting popularity make it unlikely Mr. Chirac will dare seek a third term or be able to hand the reins to a trusted ally such as Dominique de Villepin, the neo-Napoleonic (much less Gaullist) prime minister. Mr. Sarkozy, a nemesis of both men, won their party’s Sunday primary with 98% of votes.

On nearly all matters, Mr. Sarkozy sees what Chirac is doing and does the opposite — especially on America. Mr. Sarkozy hails the Yankee “can-do spirit” and openness to newcomers. France and America, he says, have a common enemy, terrorism. In a visit to Washington last fall, he enthusiastically met with George W. Bush and lashed out against “French arrogance”; neither won him plaudits back home. One of his nicknames — Sarko l’Américain — isn’t intended as a compliment.

It goes on to describe the Leftist candidate, Ségolène Royal, as an intellectually void, pretty face. I’d really like to see France join the rest of us in the 21st century.

I’ve always said that Paris is a wonderful city, if only it weren’t filled French people.

Category: Foreign Policy

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