- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On May 6, the French will decide the future of their country and the rest of Europe. If they elect Nicolas Sarkozy as their next president, they will do the West a great service.

On Sunday, Mr. Sarkozy, the candidate of the center-right UMP party, garnered 31.1 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Segolene Royal, won 25.8 percent. Miss Royal is the wife, or rather the “civil partner” (they are not married), of Francois Hollande, the uncharismatic leader of the Socialist Party. “Sarko” and “Sego” now have to run the second and final round of the presidential election.

Though Miss Royal, 53, is not very bright, she is good-looking, flamboyant and typically French. Miss Royal has promised to implement leftist economic policies that will “frighten the capitalists.” She also calls for European opposition to “the American hyperpower.” Mr. Sarkozy, 52, is an atypical Frenchman. He is the son of a Hungarian father (real name: Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa) and a mother who was herself the daughter of a Greek immigrant.

“I like the frame of mind of those who need to build everything because nothing was given to them,” he said about his upbringing. Unlike Miss Royal, Mr. Sarkozy is not an “enarque,” a graduate of the prestigious Ecole nationale d’administration (ENA), where most leading French politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats and businessmen attain their degrees.

Mr. Sarkozy is an admirer of the United States. Pro-American Frenchmen are rare, although one of the greatest admirers of America of all times, Alexis de Tocqueville, was a Frenchman. Tocqueville noted a truth that has largely been lost in Europe but is still understood by many Americans: the fact that man’s morality is strengthened when the government is minimal. “One of the happiest consequences of the absence of government ? is the development of individual strength that inevitably follows from it,” he wrote.

It is exactly the loss of individual strength that has been the disease of France ever since it inflicted upon itself the totalitarian revolution of 1789. The latter turned this once great nation — which produced warriors such as Charles Martel, Saint Louis and Joan of Arc — into what Tocqueville called “a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” In France the Marxist left and the Bonapartist/Gaullist Right alike favor strong centralist, patronizing authority.

Miss Royal has the best cards to win on May 6 because her anti-capitalism appeals to the voters of Francois Bayrou, the so-called “centrist” but basically social-democratic presidential candidate, who polled 18.6 percent in the first round, and because her anti-Americanism appeals to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French nationalist, who won 10.5 percent. The candidate who is able to win over the majority of Messrs. Bayrou’s and Le Pen’s voters wins the presidency.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Le Pen surprised many of his former supporters by saying that the children of the Muslim North African immigrants are “as French as can be.” At the same time he denounced Mr. Sarkozy for not being French enough because he “comes from an immigrant background.” This may seem a paradox, but not to the French. Immigrants with a North African background are considered to belong to the broad French culture, while those with a Hungarian background do not. North Africa is a former French colony. Hungary, however, is a part of the “new Europe,” which the French establishment distrusts because they considered it too uncritical of America.

Traditionally, French foreign policy is aimed at counterbalancing America’s global power by allying a French-led Europe with North Africa, thereby creating a power basis around the Mediterranean Sea which is dominated by a French-Arab culture. This policy was initiated by President Charles de Gaulle. It has permeated the European Union and explains not only Brussels’ policies toward Israel and America, but also Europe’s domestic positions regarding Muslim immigration and the idea that Islam is part of Europe.

Mr. Sarkozy jeopardized this grand strategy when, as French interior minister in 2005, he reacted so strongly against the rioting Islamist “youths” in the French suburbs that he became a symbol of resistance against the Islamization of Europe’s urban neighborhoods. “Sarko” talked tougher than he acted. Nevertheless, he became a hate figure for Muslims, who were not used to being opposed. If “Sarko” becomes president of France, the strategy to ally Europe and North Africa against America will suffer a setback. Firstly, because he is seen as a friend of America and secondly, because French Muslims regard him as an enemy.

If the 31.1 percent of the electorate who voted for him on Sunday are joined by another 19 percent voting for “Sarko” on May 6, the recovery from the French disease can begin. Perhaps France — and Europe — are not lost yet.

Paul Belien is editor of the Brussels Journal and an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute.

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