segunda-feira, 19 de setembro de 2016
Nicolas Sarkozy, end of the dream
Nicolas Sarkozy, end of the dream
The former president isn’t the man he once was.
9/19/16, 5:30 AM CET
PARIS — A few days before Nicolas Sarkozy announced he would run for reelection as French president next year, he fielded an unusual question from a caller on a radio show: Could Sarkozy, the caller asked, ever make him dream again?
The man on the line, named Régis, said he had voted for Sarkozy for president in 2007 on the basis of his uplifting campaign, and was considering backing him in an coming right-wing primary. But he wanted a glimpse of the candidate’s old, positive persona.
Sarkozy’s response was blunt — and illustrates the deep change he has undergone since he burst onto the world stage nine years ago as the most original French leader in generations.
“The question, Régis,” said Sarkozy, “is not whether I can make you dream. Dreaming, what for? To put you to sleep? … The real question is to describe the reality lived by French people today. I don’t think it’s a happy reality, there are six million people who are unemployed.”
After five years as president, and four more fighting his way back into the limelight, the former president is determined to return to the Elysée palace, despite legal troubles and polls showing that a majority of French people oppose his candidacy.
This version of Sarkozy no longer has time for “dreams” or inspirational talk. Politically speaking, he has slammed the door on his former self.
Gone is the man once teased at home as “Sarko, l’américain” (intended as a put-down, he took it as a compliment), who preached equal opportunity, called for an Affirmative Action-style program to combat hiring discrimination, professed his admiration for the United States and ranked climate change and protection of the environment as one of the top priorities for his presidency.
The 2016 Sarkozy — grayer, more brittle, still remarkably trim — now looks more favorably toward Moscow than he does toward Washington. On climate change, he has turned from crusader to naysayer, telling a group of business leaders this week that only “arrogant” people could believe it was caused by man.
Forget a new economic deal for France, or the soaring music and flapping birds of his 2007 campaign ads. They are gone.
Of the eight contestants for the conservative Les Républicains party’s nomination for president, Sarkozy presents himself as the only one with the grit and experience to avert disaster in France. Two months before the November vote, his pitch boils down to “total war” on terrorism: banning the burkini across France and setting up camps to detain suspected terrorist sympathizers before they have committed any crime.
“If we are not careful, the risks of a disintegration of French society will grow until they become inevitable” — Nicolas Sarkozy
“If we are not careful, the risks of a disintegration of French society will grow until they become inevitable,” he said at a recent rally, commenting on an influx of refugees. “It will then be too late to shed crocodile tears on a situation that, due to cowardice, we refused to confront.”
Sarkozy’s hard-right push even has Marine Le Pen’s camp reeling.
“He is hunting on our ground, and often outflanking us on the right,” said Nicolas Bay, the National Front’s election strategist. “We had become used to this, but this time he seems to have lost any inhibition whatsoever.”
Pivot to Moscow
For Régis and many others who once admired Sarkozy, the changes prompt a question: What happened to the man who ran for president in 2007?
Back then, the “Bling Bling” president had already irritated the French with his abrasive personal style and habit of hobnobbing with rich moguls. But what he lacked in personal appeal, he made up for with a political offering that was unlike anything on the market at the time.
Breaking with the do-nothing years of Jacques Chirac’s presidency, Sarkozy called for a radical overhaul of France’s ultra-protective, “broken” welfare system (a no-no even for right-wingers); the end of the 35-hour work week; and a chance for workers to accrue wealth via hard work — an idea that was more radical than it appears.
On foreign policy, he struck out from Gaullist orthodoxy. Never embracing the doctrine of a “multipolar” world (one in which the United States is less dominant, and other players have more power) cherished by Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, Sarkozy wanted closer ties to Washington and brought Paris back into NATO’s command structure — a move that helped earn him a reputation in the United States as the “most pro-American French President since the Second World War,” according to leaked diplomatic cables.
With regard to Moscow, he maintained a pointedly skeptical stance, criticizing the “brutality” of President Vladimir Putin’s administration.
Of that Sarkozy, little remains.
The candidate who once called for scrapping any legal limit on working time now wants a 37-hour week, saying that abandoning the law would be pointless. Instead of wanting to reboot a deeply indebted social welfare system, he embraces the state’s role as a “protector” of its citizens. In the place of upward mobility for immigrants through work, he now advocates slashing immigration, reforming the Schengen zone and administering language tests to newly arrived citizens.
“Crimea chose Russia, we cannot blame them for it” — Nicolas Sarkozy
On foreign policy, the shifts are no less remarkable. Once a Putin skeptic, Sarkozy has become one of the Russian president’s champions in France, visiting him twice over the past year and echoing his defense of the annexation of Crimea.
“Crimea chose Russia, we cannot blame them for it,” Sarkozy told a party rally last year.
As for “Sarko, l’américain,” he no longer exists.
Once a frequent visitor to the U.S. embassy in Paris, the ex-president stopped attending functions once he left power, according to a diplomatic source.
Forged by failure
One take on Sarkozy’s new approach is that he is responding to troubled times. French society is traumatized after a series of terrorist attacks, and Sarkozy is merely riding a wave of harsher political discourse emanating from the Right and Left. A senior Sarkozy aide said the former president was “answering an acute need for authority that he has heard on the campaign trail everywhere in France.”
“His campaign is based on reality, and the reality is that the French are anxious about security and the economy,” added the aide, who asked not to be named.
But terrorism alone does not explain Sarkozy’s shift. Beyond his security proposals, it’s his entire outlook that has changed to a form of conservatism which acknowledges that major changes are not possible. Once proud to declare France a member of the Western order, Sarkozy is now closer to a traditional Gaullist viewpoint that positions Paris on the fulcrum between East and West‚ another concession to tradition.
Aides argue that being in power improved Sarkozy’s understanding of his country’s political instincts. His 2012 reelection campaign, piloted by Patrick Buisson, a controversial right-wing historian, was focused on the “French people” as an indistinct, eternal mass that Sarkozy claimed to understand.
Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris for the Priest killed in church attack near Rouen
Nicolas Sarkozy attending a mass in tribute to priest Jacques Hamel who has been killed by two attackers at the Saint Etienne church in Saint Etienne du Rouvray on July 26, at the Cathedral Notre Dame in Paris, France, July 27, 2016 | Benoit Tessier/Maxppp out via EPA
But there is a less forgiving explanation: that Sarkozy’s outlook was colored by failure and timidity. Shortly after reaching power, he attempted to enact his vision for Affirmative Action in France, only to have it crushed by a Constitutional Council that ruled out any possibility of keeping tabs on ethnic statistics in France.
On the social front, he passed a law ensuring minimum service in public transportation during strikes, and stopped taxing overtime hours (President François Hollande undid the latter measure as soon as he took power). But he stopped short of rescinding the 35-hour law, and never dealt with the heart of the problem in the labor market, as he had diagnosed it himself — the excessively complex and cumbersome labor code, and the trade unions that defend it.
Who did take a crack at the almighty labor code, for better or worse? Sarkozy’s Socialist successor, Hollande.
When other initiatives, such as his “Union for the Mediterranean,” ran into trouble, Sarkozy simply abandoned them and moved on. And when it comes to Russia, Sarkozy appears to be following a trend of Russophilia that is sweeping across the French Right.
After trying to reform France, Sarkozy claims that he gained enough experience to know what works and what does not. Another explanation is that the failure to bring about the change he had promised in 2007 killed his appetite for risk, leaving only his desire to return to power.