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by Pierre Laurent


Translated Sunday 13 July 2008, by Gene Zbikowski


Before leaving for the G8 summit in Japan, French President Nicolas Sarkozy organized a collective exercise in egotistical praise of his policies at a meeting of the national council of his political party, the UMP, on Saturday. “Our policies are working and we’re going to continue pursuing them” was, in substance, the point hammered home by the speakers on all subjects, whether it was Europe, where the contradictions were denied and even scorned with the usual arrogance of the Sarkozyist right-winger, or the situation of the labor movement, where, according to the head of state, “when there’s a strike, no one even notices it” – as if the president’s self-persuasion was enough to disappear the political and labor unease reigning in France. In reality, for lack of proving to be really convincing, the French president fell back on a method which he thinks has been a success for him: playing the bully-boy and showing his muscles. Violent towards the left, dragging out antiquated anti-communism, disdainful towards the labor and social movement, Nicolas Sarkozy has once again got aggressiveness and effectiveness mixed up. To the doubting Thomases who take note of the accumulation of bad news or who speak of “bad luck,” he retorted, first: to them, “I say that I am, when all is said and done, the President of France.” Then, carried away by his own enthusiasm, he repeated: to them, I say that “I am, when all is said and done, President of the European Union,” forgetting merely to mention that he has no merit in the second case since the rotating European presidency automatically passes from one country to another and since it does not at all give him total control over the destiny of the EU. But what does that matter? In Sarkozy’s fantasy world, strength and omnipotence are substitutes for real greatness. And after that, some people are still amazed that Sarkozy is so tempted to exercise personal power.

The problem is that this kind of willful authoritarianism has never solved anything, and this is even more the case now, when the crisis has become rooted in the now patent divorce between the expectations of the French people and the reality of the policy embodied by Nicolas Sarkozy. The first year of Sarkozy’s five-year term as president demonstrates that in a dazzling manner. The CSA public opinion poll published yesterday by le Parisien-Aujourd’hui on Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to personally intervene in the nomination of the CEO of the state television networks says it all. With a 71% negative opinion, an exceptionally high level, Sarkozy’s measure has aroused a real attitude of rejection. And it is precisely the French president’s intention to have his finger in every sauce that has precipitated the feeling of worry. That should lead all of us to reflect on the consequences of adopting the reform of French institutions that Sarkozy desires in order to reformat the exercise of political power in such a way as to suit ... him.

For the moment, at the UMP party, the line is “say what you like, we’re continuing anyway.” Moreover, Patrick Devedjian, the general secretary of the UMP, said, in explaining the French people’s lack of understanding for the measures taken regarding state television, “the hypocrisy of the existing system leads them into error.” It’s the same line as the one regarding the European constitution treaty – it’s a well-known truth that those who disagree just don’t understand. In shifting continually between an attitude of conviction and one of force, the Sarkozy government is, in reality, betting on one main tactic: getting people to believe in the inevitability of the policies that it is realizing.

In the long term, that is what needs to be attacked, both in the forum of action and the forum of theoretical debate, by putting forward other policies and other ways of realizing them. It can be done. The success of l’Humanité’s July 2 special edition on money is proof. At a time when the head of state is working to control everything and will attempt totally to occupy the political terrain over the summer months, as he did last year, continuing to read, to discuss, and to pass around l’Humanité is a good way to breathe life into democracy in France.

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