France braces for reforms under Sarkozy

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Mr. Sarkozy’s dream of becoming president apparently goes back to his teenage years.

Nicolas Paul Stephane Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa is the son of an aristocratic Hungarian father and mother of Greek-Jewish ancestry converted to Catholicism. For much of his political life, he has been a loner, a man outside the system.

A lawyer by profession, he did not attend any of the elite schools favored by the French political class.

He considers himself to be a modernizer who is not reticent to impose necessary changes on the country and claims “the French are not afraid of change; they are waiting for it” — a view some analysts dispute.

His often abrasive behavior was seen by many as an obstacle to his election that he managed to overcome. Nonetheless, the festering problem of the restive suburbs and of the assimilation of the alienated youth remains without a satisfactory solution in sight.

One field where Mr. Chirac’s interest and experience regarding global issues will be missed is that of foreign policy. He had a personal relationship with the world’s leading statesmen and intensely cultivated friendships with the leaders of former French colonies.

Mr. Chirac’s opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq and his frequent nationalist outbursts gained him considerable approval. But he burned his fingers by calling a referendum on the EU constitution, rather than simple parliamentary approval which was virtually guaranteed.

A friend of the U.S.

Mr. Sarkozy is no foreign policy expert and so far has carefully avoided issues that could expose either his lack of knowledge or experience.

A strong France with a unique voice and world role are part of the Gaullist tradition to which Mr. Sarkozy subscribes. He appears to be satisfied with France’s influence in the United Nations Security Council and its stature as a nuclear power, without needing to discuss such issues further.

He is unlikely to make bold decisions on French policy in the Middle East or on the EU’s confrontation with Russia’s increasingly ambitious President Vladimir Putin.

Said Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a former French president, “It’s France living with the shutters closed, as if the outside world did not exist.”

Derided by the Socialist opposition as “an American lackey,” Mr. Sarkozy regards himself as “a friend of the United States” but without stressing it too much in a country where anti-Americanism is popular.

Nonetheless, in his victory speech, he pledged friendship with “the world’s greatest democracy.”

“France will always be there when they [the United States] need us,” he said, adding quickly that “friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions.”

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