Paris, February 15, 2012 (AFP)
Paris, February 15, 2012 (AFP)
From celebrating his 2007 election victory with French tycoons to his heroic reception by crowds in post-revolutionary Libya, Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency has been as hyperactive as it is chequered.
When Sarkozy, who Wednesday announced he will stand for re-election, first won France’s top job, he toasted his success at the chic Fouquet’s on the Champs Elysees, along with a swathe of top business leaders.
He was to count on them, and the rich in general, to implement his “growth shock” that would benefit the entire nation.
One of his first moves was to cut taxes on the rich, in the hopes of getting tax exiles to return and of preventing a brain drain.
The measure was emblematic of “Sarkozyism” and attacked by the left-wing opposition. It would also come back to haunt him as the French economy sank further during the financial crises of 2008 and 2011.
“When I came to power in 2007, economic growth was strong, the economic danger was from inflation,” Sarkozy, who at the time vowed to return France to full employment, said in an interview last week with the Le Figaro daily.
Instead, unemployment continues to grow, hitting a historic high of 10 percent of the working population.
The opposition has for five years repeatedly slammed Sarkozy as “the president of the rich”, and some of his allies have recently even admitted that errors were made.
“One must have the humility to admit that, in what we’ve done, there have been some real successes, but also failures,” said Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire.
“That will make our proposals all the more credible. It’s true that at the beginning of the mandate, we could have made different choices,” Le Maire said.
True to form, Sarkozy himself is less contrite.
“I’ve always been against repentance, I’m not going to change today,” he said in the interview with the pro-government Le Figaro, laying out his “French values” days before announcing his candidacy.
His time in office has been somewhat eclipsed by the worst financial crisis since 1929, which crippled his agenda, brought on two recessions, and forced expensive measures to fight rising deficits and debt.
In late 2008, then-European Union president Sarkozy moved to the vanguard of attacking the excesses of capitalism. He helped bail out European banks pushed to the brink by the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers.
Despite that success, Europe was not entirely saved. In 2011, the eurozone public debt crisis hit hard, with Greece reduced almost to bankruptcy.
Sarkozy again moved to take control of the situation, but this time amid differences with key ally Germany, as the markets plunged into turmoil, and France’s economic situation deteriorated further.
The country lost its coveted AAA credit rating at the start of 2012, putting it on a decidedly different level to the successful German economy.
Sarkozy pushed through tough reforms, including raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, measures that provoked public ire but proved ultimately insufficient.
By 2012, France had lost 500,000 blue-collar jobs in 10 years.
This year Sarkozy has sought to make it easier and cheaper for businesses to hire new employees, a measure that will be compensated by a rise in the sales tax in October — provided Sarkozy wins the two-round April-May election
The reform also risks widespread unpopularity and anger, something that has become almost a given throughout Sarkozy’s five-year mandate.
Sarkozy kept the same prime minister throughout his mandate, Francois Fillon, who passed a series of security- and immigration-centred measures, including banning the face-covering Muslim burqa in public spaces.
But despite the domestic and European crises, the “hyperactive” Sarkozy has successfully raised France’s profile in the world, while sometimes frustrating allies.
He began his mandate with a new European Union treaty, successfully brokered an end to the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict and returned France to NATO’s integrated command structure.
But Sarkozy’s real success was in Libya, where he was given a hero’s welcome when he visited Tripoli and the rebel bastion of Benghazi in September at the end of a NATO-led campaign he effectively decided to begin six months earlier.
“It was the most moving moment, I will never forget the palpable joy,” he recalled.
France has regained and amplified its status on the world stage, after failing to back the first Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and former colony Tunisia, where Paris just couldn’t bring itself to oust dictator ally Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.