France’s Sarkozy stages a political comeback
Nicolas Sarkozy promised to leave politics if he lost the French presidential election in 2012. But he is back, just two and half years after his defeat, writes Dr Emmanuel Martin.
Mr Sarkozy announced his comeback, because he felt he ‘had no choice’. He will stand for the leadership of his centre-right party the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) in November. It is difficult to accept that he does not see this as a springboard for another tilt at the presidential elections in 2017.
So, could Mr Sarkozy be France’s new saviour?
His party is in crisis. One of the party’s leadership candidates, former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, was involved in a scandal over party financing. He is also remembered for backing down in front of street demonstrators in 1995. But he still, paradoxically, projects the image of a rigid technocrat. That is not an exciting prospect.
The other contender, Francois Fillon, is remembered as being in the shadow of Nicolas Sarkozy as his prime minister. He is also the man who tried to reduce deficits by increasing taxes. He lacks the charisma of a leader.
Compared with these men, of course Mr Sarkozy has energy. He knows how to gather people together and play the crowd. He seems to be the logical choice for the centre-right to many in his camp.
But he does not appear to have any platform. And he has a worrying track record. France wanted a bold reformer for so many years but Mr Sarkozy quickly became a disappointment.
He undertook a whole series of reforms well before the economic crisis. Most made things worse.
Mr Sarkozy concentrated on politically visible remedies or solutions, hiding the embarrassing costs, as in the case of his reforms of special pension schemes in big public companies or in vocational training.
Mr Sarkozy chose the wrong policies to fight the global economic crisis too. In one memorable speech in September 2008 he called for a ‘return of the state’ when French public spending had already topped 52 per cent of GDP.
The man once considered a reformer pushed public spending up to 57 per cent.
Public debt rose from 62 to 88 per cent of GDP under Mr Sarkozy, adding an extra burden of more than 600 billion euros on to the shoulders of future generations.
Taxes were increased and new taxes created. No serious structural reform of state administration was undertaken.
Today, it is difficult to believe in Mr Sarkozy’s ‘total transformation’ of his party.
French politics needs new men and new women…... and certainly new ideas.