I am not a big fan of Nicolas Sarkozy. I wish instead the socialist candidate in France had won, as I cannot fathom how a conservative will be able to address the severe social problems that are at the root of France’s current problems. Without spending money, how can France address the unsafe housing and discriminatory hiring practices that keep immigrant families poor and at risk? The traditional conservative solution — liberalizing labour laws and reducing taxes in order to to spark the economy — might put more people to work, but it will not stop the social unrest that comes from inequity and racism. Is Sarkozy just a Margaret Thatcher with trousers?
And yet, there are some signs that Sarkozy seeks a more just society. Half his cabinet is comprised of women. One of those is of North African descent. While this is not exactly a revolution of representation, it is a vast improvement on Chirac’s sluggish, exclusionist, and pretty-much-totally-snobby-even-though-he-stayed-out-of-Iraq reign.
How does Sarkozy rate on environmental issues? He talks the talk — but nobody believes him. Then again, he’s an improvement on the French status quo: France has been criticized by Greenpeace and other groups for overfishing, failing to protect open spaces, and ignoring the production of genetically modified foods.
And when it comes to nuclear power, France has been a dirty southern cousin compared to the rest of Europe. It’s more dependent on nuclear energy for electricity than any other country, with more than 70 per cent of its supply coming from atomic reactors. Sarkozy says he will reduce that figure and halt development of the next generation of reactors.
We will see. If Sarkozy is a cross-dressing Thatcher, many of his countrymen will thank him for igniting the French economy. And some will suffer the fallout of social unrest, industrial strife, and high unemployment.