- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007

PARIS — Nicolas Sarkozy, an enthusiastic friend of the United States, was elected president of France by a comfortable margin yesterday and signaled at once that his victory would mean friendly relations with Washington.

His Socialist Party opponent, Segolene Royal, conceded defeat for her hopes of becoming France’s first female president. With nearly 70 percent of ballots counted, Mr. Sarkozy had won just over 53 percent of the vote, according to the Interior Ministry.

Mr. Sarkozy said he wants to “tell American friends that they can rely on our friendship. France will always be next to them when they need us.” Friendship, he said, “means accepting that friends can have different opinions,” but in his campaign he was enthusiastic in his praise for what he called “the world’s greatest democracy.”

Mr. Sarkozy, 52, will succeed Jacques Chirac, 74, who has frequently scorned America and “le Anglo-Saxons,” on May 17.

President Bush swiftly called the new president-elect to offer congratulations.

Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, said the United States and France “are historic allies and partners and President Bush looks forward to working with President-elect Sarkozy as we continue our strong alliance.”

Largely untested on the global stage, Mr. Sarkozy delved into foreign policy in his first speech as president-elect, urging the United States to take the lead on climate change and saying the issue would be a priority for France.

“The people of France have chosen change,” Mr. Sarkozy said, and pledged to be “president of all the French.”

The voter turnout was projected at 85 percent — a level not seen in 40 years — reflecting the dynamism of both candidates and the high stakes for a nation worrying that it is losing global influence to Britain, Germany and even developing countries such as China and India.

“I gave it all my efforts, and will continue,” Miss Royal told supporters as she conceded defeat. “Something has risen up that will not stop.”

Mr. Sarkozy — a charismatic figure popular for uncompromising and sometimes harsh — inherits from Mr. Chirac stagnant wages, a lagging economy and frustration in impoverished, immigrant-heavy suburbs. The unemployment rate is 8.3 percent, which Mr. Sarkozy promised to cut to 5 percent before his term ends in 2012.

While exuberant Sarkozy supporters partied in central Paris, police quietly watched for possible unrest in suburbs where Mr. Sarkozy is unpopular and riots broke out in 2005.

Mr. Sarkozy — for whom the presidency has been a long quest — is likely to face stubborn resistance to his plans to make the French work more hours and make it easier for companies to hire and fire malingering or incompetent employes. He calls France’s mandated 35-hour work week absurd and, as interior minister, cracked down on drunken driving, crime and illegal immigration.

He has unabashedly borrowed certain American ideas. Tough-talking and blunt, he alienated many in France’s housing projects when he called young thugs “scum.”

Mr. Sarkozy has drawn up a whirlwind program for his first 100 days and plans to put ambitious reforms before parliament at a special session in July. One bill would make overtime pay tax-free to encourage people to work more, and another would put in place tougher sentencing for repeat criminal offenders.

Miss Royal, 53, is a former environment minister who says France must keep its welfare protections in place. She wanted to raise the minimum wage, create 500,000 state-funded starter jobs for youths and build 120,000 subsidized housing units a year.

Miss Royal emphasized environment issues and and promised better schools, but she made several foreign-policy suggestions that both Mr. Sarkozy and pundits pounced on — suggesting, for example, that the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec deserves independence. Mr. Sarkozy portrayed Miss Royal as a lightweight with vague ideas, and she painted him as brutal and a bully, once calling him the “bogeyman.”

Miss Royal’s loss marked the Socialists’ third straight presidential defeat. The party has worked to repair its divisions after the 2005 referendum on the proposed European constitution, when many of its leaders broke from the party line to urge the French to vote “no.”

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