Sarkozy Wins, America Wins, Socialism Loses

Nicolas Sarkozy has won the French presidency, which is good news for the United States and bad news for European socialism. The NYT:

Nicolas Sarkozy, the passionate, pugnacious son of a Hungarian immigrant, was elected president of France on Sunday, promising a break with the past, a new style of leadership, and a renewal of relations with the United States and the rest of Europe.

Mr. Sarkozy’s triumph over Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate, was a huge blow to her party and dashed her dream of becoming the country’s first female president. But Ms. Royal tried to rally her supporters, telling them French politics had forever changed with her candidacy.

With the entire vote counted, Mr. Sarkozy had 53.1 percent and Ms. Royal 46.9 percent, according to official Interior Ministry figures. Ms. Royal had repeatedly appealed to the women of France to vote for her in a show of female solidarity. But Mr. Sarkozy, a conservative who made his reputation as a hard-line minister of the interior, got the majority of the women’s vote, according to Ipsos, an international polling company.

Royal can take some comfort, though, in seeing the Islamist uprisings she predicted come to fruition:

His victory set off scattered anti-Sarkozy violence in Paris and some other cities, but for the most part France stayed calm.

The results were overwhelming and appear likely to change French politics permanently.

Turnout was exceptionally high. Eighty-four percent of France’s 44.5 million registered voters cast ballots, about four percentage points higher than the level five years ago.

In an emotional acceptance speech to thousands of cheering supporters in a rented concert hall in the chic Eighth Arrondissement, Mr. Sarkozy (pronounced SAR-ko-zee) renewed his campaign pledge to break what he called the old, outmoded habits of France. “The French people have chosen change,” Mr. Sarkozy declared. “I will implement that change. Because that is the mandate I received and because France needs change.”

He vowed to “break with the ideas, the habits and the behavior of the past” and to “rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect and merit.” Mr. Sarkozy has pledged to remake France by, among other things, slashing unemployment, cutting taxes, keeping trains running during strikes, making people work harder and longer, shrinking the government bureaucracy, reforming pension rules and making it easier to create new businesses.

Widely criticized in France for his strong pro-American sentiments, Mr. Sarkozy sought in his acceptance speech to strike a balanced approach to the United States. Addressing France’s “American friends,” he said, “I want to tell them that France will always be by their side when they need her, but that friendship is also accepting the fact that friends can think differently.” He specifically criticized the United States for obstructing the fight against global warming, which he said would be a high priority.

If this comes true, it will be huge:

“The voters have spoken,” Ms. Royal said. “I hope the next president will fulfill his mission in the service of all the French people.” But she also said the election campaign had changed the French left forever, hinting at disarray in her party and suggesting the Socialists may seek to form an alliance with the large following of François Bayrou, the centrist candidate. “Something rose up that will not stop,” she said, adding, “You can count on me to deepen the renewal of the left.”

TIME’s Bruce Crumley gives some indication, at least, of the difficulty Royal faces in implementing that:

“No one seriously is considering continuing the disastrous seduction of centrists,” warned Jean-Luc Mélanchon, a member of the Socialist Party’s hard left flank. “It’s clear that to avoid the right sweeping again, the Socialist Party will have to refocus and regroup, and bond with the wider left to win as many seats in parliament as possible,” agree Socialist official Henri Weber. “That will be overseen by members of the party’s leadership.”

FT‘s Martin Arnold believes some sort of upheaval is coming, though:

Let the finger-pointing begin. Ségolène Royal’s defeat on Sunday night left the French Socialist party in disarray and searching for someone to blame. There is hardly a shortage of scapegoats.

It is the party’s third consecutive presidential defeat. The Socialists now face the question of whether they can ever regain power without ditching their anti-capitalist rhetoric, as the mainstream left has done across almost all of Europe.


“The left is not credible on so many issues, from the 35-hour working week to immigration and law and order,” says Dominique Reynié, professor at Sciences Po university. “It is the fault of the left collectively. Ever since their [parliamentary election] defeat in 1983 they have never questioned their fundamental ideology, only thinking they needed to change tactics,” he says.

That’s a phenomenon Americans are familiar with, too, (see Mark Tapscott for the latest examples) but our parties do tend to reinvent themselves after successive election defeats.

Ironically, the current French “double ballot” electoral system was put in place to end the “crisis and compromise” of the old proportional representation system. In theory, and often in practice, the first round of elections allowed French citizens to vote for niche parties tailored to their political ideologies and then a natural choice between center-left and center-right consensus candidates in the second ballot. In the last two elections, though, the alterative choices were extremist parties, whether Le Pen’s radical National Front or Royale’s unreconstructed Socialists. Neither is particularly appealing as a governing party, regardless of how much fun they might be on the stump.

If Royal can forge a post-election alliance with the Centrists — which is a big If, given that she couldn’t do it between the first and second ballots — then large-S Socialism in France may be dead forever. Small-s socialism, in the sense of a cradle to grave nanny state, isn’t going anywhere.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.