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The Sarkozy Paradox

The French seem to have forgotten what being French is all about.

12:00 AM, May 7, 2007 • By SOPHIE FERNANDEZ
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BY ELECTING THE conservative Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday, the French actually chose the candidate promising the most radical change, while rejecting a defender of the status quo in socialist Ségolène Royal. The president-elect, whose 53.2 percent to 46.8 percent margin of victory was more than comfortable, is young (52 years old) and openly Atlanticist and pro-American. He declared in his acceptance speech that his priorities would be to "rehabilitate work, morality, respect, merit."

The French (53 percent of them, anyway) seem to have forgotten their reluctance to change, their well-known anti-Americanism, and their custom of electing presidents from the ranks of the elite finishing school, the Ecole National d'Administration, with typical French names like Jacques or François. Sarkozy will benefit from a massive mandate--the 84 percent turnout (the highest since 1981) and from being elected "by himself." Centrist candidate François Bayrou refused to support him, and far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen called for his backers to sit out the final round of voting. As he said in his acceptance speech, Sarkozy wants to "break with the habits from the past." The broad support he received will maximize his chances of carrying out the numerous reforms promised in his platform, such as freezing public-sector hiring, modifying the 35-hour week, and cutting taxes.

Half an hour after being elected president, Sarkozy embraced his reputation for being the most pro-American president in recent French history: "I want to call out to our American friends to tell them that they can count on our friendship," he said in his acceptance speech. He added his usual caveat, "friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions" and urged Washington "not to block the battle against global warming but--on the contrary--to take the lead in this battle, because the fate of the whole of humanity is at stake." Still, despite his halting English and the reservations he expressed, Sarkozy should be a more cooperative partner for Washington than outgoing President Jacques Chirac. President George W. Bush, unsurprisingly, phoned Sarkozy promptly to congratulate him on his victory on Sunday afternoon.

Ségolène Royal, who passionately fought to become the first female president in France, was gracefully thanked by her constituents who chanted "Ségolène Merci" while she vowed to continue supporting the Socialist party. She encouraged her constituents to "keep up their enthusiasm," while promising: "What we started together we will continue together. You can count on me to continue the renovation of the left." That renovation would be needed, she said, for the party to enjoy "future victories."

Sophie Fernandez is an editorial intern at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.