- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Last May, when Nicolas Sarkozy was running for president of France, I wrote on this page that he was “Europe’s best hope.” Mr. Sarkozy won the votes of 53 percent of the record 85 percent of the French electorate that came out to vote in the presidential elections. The French approved of his tough rhetoric against the Islamist “thugs” (his word) who control many no-go neighborhoods in the country, where more than 10 percent of the population already adheres to the Muslim faith.

During the presidential campaign his Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal, warned that a Sarkozy victory would lead to violence in the Muslim neighborhoods. The French refused to be intimidated into appeasement and rose to the occasion. French men and women who normally do not vote because they distrust politics turned out en masse to elect “Sarko.” The “thugs” have since begun to ambush police and no longer refrain from shooting at officers, but the Sarkozy government had not clamped down on them.

Today, 10 months after his victory, Mr. Sarkozy’s approval rate has tumbled from 65 to 38 percent. He has not lived up to his promise to reclaim France’s lost territories from the “thugs.” Moreover, though elected on a conservative program, he has since dramatically moved leftward, bringing Socialists into his government. He also used his large parliamentary majority to change the French constitution and subsequently ratify a treaty which transfers substantial powers from Paris to the European Union authorities in Brussels, even though the French had rejected such a transfer of sovereignty in a referendum in 2005. Their president deliberately denied the French a referendum on the new treaty because, as he himself admitted openly, they might reject it if given the opportunity.

This betrayal of France’s national interest went largely unnoticed because the president was making the headlines with his divorce from his wife and his courtship of and marriage to an Italian-born singer and nude model. France’s new First Lady, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, shows it all in the glossy magazines. She tells the press that she dislikes the French but has a preference for short men. “The French are miserable but Sarkozy’s my Napoleon,” she says, while she also professes not to believe in monogamy.

In less than a year, Mr. Sarkozy has managed to lose the respect of his compatriots and turn the French presidency into an international laughing stock. Since he began his affair with the sexually insatiable nude model, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel refers to Mr Sarkozy as “President Duracell,” after the long-life battery. Even political allies question Mr. Sarkozy’s lack of judgment. The centrist politician Francois Leotard confessed in a newspaper interview last week: “I voted for Sarkozy, but I have not slept well ever since… I believe that his ego, his thirst for power — strengthened by the great servility around him — is literally taking up all the space. I have always thought that as a general rule politicians deserved to be psychoanalyzed. His is a very interesting case.”

Sunday’s local elections resulted in a snub for Mr. Sarkozy. His UMP party polled only 45 percent, compared to the Socialists’ 47 percent. The UMP leaders are relieved because they had expected worse. The party is, however, fortunate that there is no credible alternative to its right. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, has all but destroyed his own party with his anti-Semitism, his insistence on having his daughter succeed him at the helm of his party and last year’s embracing of the “thugs” in the suburbs as “branches of the French tree.”

The French, however, are stuck with their “Napoleon” for the foreseeable future. Before he meets his Waterloo in the 2012 elections, he can still do a lot of harm, and not just to France. Last week Mr. Sarkozy and Mrs. Merkel gave a joint press conference announcing the establishment of a “Mediterranean Union,” an international organization that will encompass the 27 EU member states plus all the countries on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This plan is the first step in merging Europe with the Islamic world. Mr. Sarkozy wants France and Algeria, a former French colony where many of the “thugs” in the French no-go zones come from, to form the axis of such a future Mediterranean Union.

If such a union comes into existence even more immigrants from the Muslim world will be allowed to enter Europe. Mr Sarkozy, once the best hope of Europe’s conservatives, may turn out to be their nightmare.

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

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