In the meantime the USA was reluctantly pulled into the Libyan sandbox and has wasted military resources attacking targets amid the Saharan sand dunes. While the Libyan endgame seems to be approaching, transatlantic unity between the Europeans and USA has been strained.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s maverick political style in domestic and foreign affairs has lost its charm; a lingering Libyan mission combined with a French troop deployment in Afghanistan has eroded the president’s popularity. Still Sarkozy’s bet on toppling the Libyan leader should pay off politically.
Yet the gloomy economic front presents much more of a clear and present danger to Sarkozy’s re-election chances. The widening Euro currency crisis, though not of France’s making, has impacted on investor confidence. Moreover after tepid economic growth in the first quarter, the growth rate was zero in the second quarter. Though most European countries are facing similar sluggishness, France’s debt remains high and unemployment stands at 9.7 percent, the highest among Europe’s major industrial countries, and slightly higher than the USA.
|France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, reviews the troops during a visit on French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, in Toulon, southern France, on Aug. 12. AP/Bertrand Langlois
Contrast that with Germany’s 7 percent unemployment, or rates of 5 percent in the Netherlands and 7.4 percent in Belgium.
The Socialist Party (PS) opposition should logically profit from such news but the socialists themselves are fragmented and in political disarray. Dominique Strauss Kahn (DSK) former chief of the International Monetary Fund, was slated as the nearly certain PS standard bearer in the 2012 elections, being viewed as a moderate and an electable Socialist.
But after lurid sexual accusations from a New York hotel maid in May, and a disturbing number of allegations in France, DSK the high-flying champagne socialist, is politically grounded in scandal.
This leaves Segolene Royal, the candidate who opposed Sarkozy in 2007 as a possible contender, her former partner Francois Hollande, as well as the lackluster PS chief Martine Aubry. All contenders must face an open primary in mid-October. Hollande remains the frontrunner in the polls and will likely face Sarkozy in the Spring.
Equally the populist/rightist National Front is expected to make major inroads and pose a threat on Sarkozy’s right flank during the first round of the two stage elections.
Importantly Sarkozy’s center-right style if not necessarily actions, has significantly improved Franco/American relations, has gently trimmed the country’s bloated bureaucracy and spending, and has cut major abuses in illegal immigration. While his instincts and impulses have favored free markets, Sarkozy and his UMP party remain wedded to a large social state.
Over the past five years, the energetic and spontaneous “Sarko” has defined a new political style and parameters but has been unable to overcome the substance of the entrenched Statist (Etatisme) socio/economic culture. The country Sarkozy governs remains France, after all.
John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense
issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.