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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sarkozy trébuche sur le pouvoir d’achat

by Rosa Moussaoui

Sarkozy embarrassed over the issue of consumer purchasing power

Translated Thursday 17 January 2008, by Maud Gillet

President Sarkozy lectures on the ’politics of civilization’ at a press conference that offers no satisfactory answer to the question of the French’s consumer purchasing power.

During last Tuesday’s extensive press conference at the Elysée presidential palace, France’s head of state lectured on his supposed ‘politics of civilisation’ as a way of skirting French people’s concerns. This policy, supposedly, is to inject sense back into French politics’ blood…rather than to account for its impotence in the face of urgent social problems and the predicaments of the French middle- and lower-classes. Tuesday’s lecture thus doubled as a magic show directed and performed by President Sarkozy. A key factor of his performance’s success, the ‘politics of civilisation’, was once again praised to the skies by Mr Sarkozy, who intends to promote it in view to bringing on no less than a ‘new rebirth’.

The ‘politics of civilization’ is a phrase presented as a borrowing from philosophical theses written by the sociologist Edgar Morin. It was first aired during the presidential election campaign, when the then leader of the UMP, the governing right-wing party, put the ‘politics of civilization’ forward as the answer to the ‘decline’, the ‘moral crisis’, and the ‘identity crisis’ that he so strongly condemned. In his 7 May Toulon address, for instance, Sarkozy called for the ‘implementation of a ‘politics of civilisation’, which would once more give substance to ‘the dream that thrust knights from all over Europe on the road to the East. Naturally, this statement is more akin to Samuel Huntington’s argument on the clash of civilizations than ‘the endeavour to increase solidarity in human relationships’ advocated by Edgar Morin...

Will not ‘boss businesses about’.

Experiencing his first ever drop in popularity since the presidential elections, Sarkozy refuted accusations according to which he is trying to ‘sweep aside the problems presently oppressing French people’. Nevertheless, in his appeal to ‘root politics in the long term perspective and in the depth of a civilization project’, he is outlining a non-committal strategy that skirts the big issues. Lashing out at his predecessors for failing to set any reform in motion, he conceded that ‘the French are through with waiting’. Yet he adamantly refused to put consumer purchasing power - the French’s foremost concern – at the heart of the political debate. Beneath his air of arrogance, the embarrassment of the Elysée’s host was clearly visible as he waved aside the possibility of any pay rises.

In an attempt to justify his uncompromising position, he asked journalists: ‘Do you expect me to empty the state’s already empty coffers? To boss businesses about?’ To justify the considerable increase in his own salary, on the other hand, President Sarkozy methodically listed the motivating factors. He had the cheek to point his finger at the media, which he described as the one agency responsible for broadcasting his private life and his luxury trips to Egypt and Jordan.

On the subject of his ‘politics of civilisation’, which he sees as the basis for a fresh start, the French president reviewed the reforms which he plans to put through in 2008. The new measures make up the second phase of a schedule of reforms completely in line with Sarkozy’s authoritarian and ultra-liberalist principles. Immigration, economical policy, employment, the environment, foreign policy, the suburbs, education, are all issues that Mr Sarkozy’s reform plan will affect. From the repeal of the 35-hour week to the entire reworking of
the legislation applying to foreign residents, and including the continuation of his business-friendly tax policy, he listed one by one the measures designed – so he says – to combine ‘protection of the French identity’ with ‘France’s necessary move towards modernity’.

On unemployment and the ‘troubled suburbs’, his ‘civilizing stance’ doggedly referred to the French people as the ones to blame for all the nation’s problems. As to far-right voters, to whom he directed a great deal of attention during the presidential election campaign, Sarkozy felt free to speak their language. For the president ‘France is, in a way, like your own house. Callers need your permission before they are let in’, a comparison often made by far-right activist Marine le Pen.

Captain Sarkozy alone at the helm. In a painstaking analysis of the international financial crisis, he purported to talk down the seriousness of its aftermath, and then asserted that the current situation ‘did not in any way affect his diagnosis nor his strategy’. ‘The only way for France to move on is to unleash the energies of the workforce’, he hammered, adding that it was absolutely necessary to ‘relax employment law’. Shortly after this, he appeared to somehow deprecate the ‘insanity of financial capitalism’, and promised to ‘prioritise community-related matters’, although community cohesion hardly figures on the agenda of the European Treaty of Lisbon, of which Mr Sarkozy himself claims to be an engineer.

With cool composure, Mr Sarkozy defended his role of sea captain at the helm of the planned institutional reforms, justified his poaching well-known personalities of socialist background. He also denied rumours predicting a reshuffle before the local elections, an electoral deadline to which he will commit himself. If he were to fail in these elections, beware, his warning went, of interpreting this failure as a sentence passed on himself and his politics. ‘My only judge is the outcome of my five-year mandate’, he said forcefully, fixing a date for a new meeting with his electorate in 2012, only eight months after coming into power.


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