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Sarkozy Administration Could Usher in Reform
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By Liu Jiansheng

The result of the second round of voting in the French presidential election was announced on May 6. The candidate of the ruling rightwing Union for a Popular Movement Nicolas Sarkozy beat Socialist candidate Segolene Royal with 53 percent of votes. Royal garnered 47 percent of the ballots.

With Sarkozy as the new president, the history of the Fifth Republic of France has just turned over a new leaf.

The latest French presidential election was held against the backdrop of widespread serious social and economic crises in Western European countries, as the tide of globalization surged throughout the world.

The French people have suffered from a sense of loss and were determined to forget the past in preference of a brand-new future, as their political passion reached boiling point. This popular sentiment prompted 44.5 million members of the French public to register to vote in this year's general elections, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the country's population.

All those born in the 1980s joined the army of voters to give birth to a new force in deciding the country's political future and pushed the voting rate up to 84 percent, the highest since 1981.

The televised debate between Sarkozy and Royal held on May 2 drew more than 20 million viewers nationwide. The number matched that of the World Cup final for a new record in the ratings of political programs in France.

This phenomenon first shows the public were eager to find a new way to meet the challenge posed by economic globalization and their strong expectation for innovation in the country's political life.

As a representative of a new generation of rightwing politicians, an ambitious Sarkozy found himself the new leader whom the people expect to rejuvenate France.

In this fight between equally strong rivals, Sarkozy owed his victory mainly to supporters of the centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) candidate Francois Bayrou.

Half of the centrist voters chose Sarkozy, while one-third of them wasted their ballots.
He also owed that 60 percent of the voters who originally backed Jean-Marie Le Pen of the rightwing National Front (FN). Those added votes cut short Royal's march ahead and helped Sarkozy secure his advantage until the end.

The rise of centrist candidate Francois Bayrou was a surprise. He commanded 18 percent of the votes in the first round, which means he won the trust of nearly 7 million voters. The centrist camp follows the "open middle road" and aims to break out of the traditional setup of left versus right in French politics by seeking "dialogue" among all social strata.

However, it was the centrist supporters who gave Sarkozy the decisive votes to emerge victorious and made bare the truth that the centrist camp is still dominated by traditional rightwing sentiments. The centrist camp's desire to join the cabinet by holding on the rightwing coattail is apparent and will influence the future of France's politics.

The next leader is the president of all French people who will represent the interest of not only his own party or the majority of the nation, but also must protect the interest of the minority. The small size of the winning margin in the general elections reflects the point of balance in the overall interest of the nation rather than the difference between voter numbers.

Faced with global economic integration, the new government has little to choose from as far as policies are concerned and finds itself in a dilemma. It will be tested first by two major social issues: an unemployment rate of around 10 percent a total of 4 million jobless people and up to 20 percent unemployment among the younger generation 10 percent of the population.

Take a look at Sarkozy's administrative guidelines. The new government will stick to the market economy, while the route to economic growth lies in emphasizing and raising the value of labor. It will also call for strengthened state authority, streamlined administrative structure, firm immigration control and solving social security problems with a strong hand.

Administrative measures the new government will take include:

On employment, the administration seeks to reach full employment in five years and to reduce unemployment to less than 5 percent by the year 2012. It also aims to abolish long-term employment contracts and encourage the use of a "new employment contract" that is more flexible and encourages longer working hours.

On tax system reform, it seeks to reduce the burden of taxation and social welfare on businesses and cut domestic debt down to 60 percent of GDP by the year 2012.

On immigration, the administration will be selective in accepting immigrants. It plans to establish the "Ministry for Immigrant Integration and National Recognition" and coordinate with countries of origin to regulate immigration.

On education system reform, the administration plans on calling upon universities to exercise more self-management. It also plans to increase investment in scientific research and higher education, provide college students with interest-free tuition loans, subsidize the young and jobless, allow students to choose schools not near where they live and require high-caliber schools to open their doors to qualified students from low-income families.

On reinforcing social security, it would stop granting exemption from criminal justice for teenage (16-18 years of age) habitual offenders and implement the system of "citizen service". According to this system, youths must participate in voluntary social service activities for six months without pay.

On poverty and homelessness, the administration promises to build more homes, subtract mortgage loan interest from income taxes and abolish the requirement for financial sponsorships or down payments from tenants. It would also reform the mortgage loan system to make it easier for applicants to gain property use rights.

On medical insurance, the administration would raise family doctors' fees for on-call visits and create more space for self-determined billing amounts.

These policies forecast that the rightwing government will somewhat weaken the function of state interference in the economy while continuing to emphasize the free market economy. It will not increase investment in public services.

For tax revenue, it will not levy less on "labor" than on "capital". And France will give more prominence to nationalism.

With the centrist camp involved in administration, however, the rightwing and leftwing parties will find their administrative guidelines in need of borrowing from and coordinating with each other.

Its economic reform will be "civilized" and "constructive" rather than "drastic". It will emphasize the idea that reform must attend to the interests of all social strata as well as to social welfare without sacrificing individual freedom and multiculturalism.

After all, the new government has to rely on strong economic growth to solve current socio-economic crises. Unfortunately, there is little optimism when it comes to French economy.

According to official forecasts, France's annual economic growth rate in 2007-08 will be 1.9 percent, compared to 2 percent in 2006- much lower than the global average. President Sarkozy has declared his goal to "unite the French people around a new French dream". This means he would strive to construct a compassionate republic where every one enjoys the same rights regardless of their social and economic statuses.

The promises Sarkozy made during his election campaign requires more than political will to fulfill knowing the economic reform will be anything but a piece of cake - with the one to reduce unemployment rate from 10 percent to 5 percent in five years being especially hard to deliver.

On May 1, the General Confederation of Trade Unions in France organized hundreds of thousands of members to march throughout the country protesting against the policy of "extreme liberalization" in a show of strength to the new government.

And in June, the labor and employers will engage in a flurry of meetings with the new government to discuss such issues as wages, employment and pensions. The new government is looking at some very serious challenges ahead.

Successive French governments have upheld Sino-Franco friendship as the heart and soul of their China diplomatic tradition. Decades of favorable development of bilateral ties would testify to this. The volume of bilateral trade has been growing very rapidly in recent years, reaching US$20.65 billion in 2005 and US$25.19 billion in 2006.

President Sarkozy's friendly feelings for China were shown by three visits to the country in 1991, 1995 and 2004. During his election campaign, Sarkozy pointed out the bilateral relations jointly established by General de Gaul and the Chinese side is "special".

It "occupies an important position in the multi-polar world and is an important force keeping the world in balance", he said.

"The Sino-Franco relationship should be further developed under the framework set forth in the agreement on forging strategic partnership the two countries signed in 2004, with priority given to enhancing France's ties with China and strengthening trade and cooperation with China to revitalize the French economy."

He also expressed willingness to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games next year, describing the event as a grand gathering of the sports world. And he rebuked calls by some rival candidates to "boycott" the Beijing Olympiad.

We firmly believe the new French government will keep the traditional independent foreign policy, with the European Union as its strategic basis. And it will remain focused on the direction of European integration, push for the development of a multi-polar world, emphasize mutual respect and dialogue among different civilizations, and play a unique and active role in maintaining world peace.

The author is a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies.

(China Daily May 10, 2007)

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