For readers following the up-hill re-election efforts ofFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy, I’d like to point out a couple of good pieces on the “social summit” the Elysée is hosting Wednesday in its attempts to push through controversial labor reforms before general elections spanning April to June. In a mere three months, France will know whether these audacious moves will have helped Sarkozy pluck victory from the jaws of defeat, or left his hopes bitten in half.
As yesterday’s Guardian story notes, Sarkozy’s new reform drive seeks to use the loss of France’s triple-A credit status as the rationale for why the president’s mantra of reform, reform, and more reform is more clairvoyant and vital now than ever before. Though the new initiatives—which aim to increase French labor competitiveness by lowering cost to employers, lift salaries, and stimulate economic growth—weren’t even under discussion just weeks ago, Sarkozy is now making their swift passage into law a do-or-die priority. And that urgency (his advisers pledge) will not yield to the potentially hostile reaction from voters and over-burdened legislators alike in finding yet another unexpected and controversial innovation thrust upon them.
But this echoes what France has heard for the past five years. Indeed, as this good Reuters story points out, the current rush to come up with and drive through a package of hastily-assembled and possibly ill-conceived measures has become a hallmark of Sarkozy’s presidency—and one reason why most of his reforms up to now have produced little (at best) of what they promised. Meaning even if his pending proposal proves more productive this time, French voters may not actually see those results until after they’ve turned Sarkozy out of the Elysée in anger over his policy choices and impetuous leadership style.
Still, the mercurial French president may have no other option. His polling numbers look so bad—and the humiliation over France’s downgrade proved so heavy—that Sarkozy now has little to lose by tempting a risky reform drive designed to win back public admiration by demonstrating his commitment to leading the country responsibly. His backers, meanwhile, depict that do-or-die play as evidence that the duty-bound Sarkozy is determined to do right for France no matter how unpopular that may prove, or what political and personal costs it may have if crisis-weary French voters fail to respond with appreciation. But that self-sacrificing spin may prove a tough sell to the French public—especially with Socialist Party rival François Hollande drawing considerable media attention for the various ways Sarkozy’s previous reforms and promises didn’t pan out. In other words, Sarkozy’s latest unexpected and bold strategy shift could pay off big with the re-election jackpot he hopes, or roll the dice in what even some skeptical conservative allies fear may be the final, resounding bust of his presidency.