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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The author is a researcher at the China Institute of
(China Daily May 10, 2007)