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Sarkozy’s Last Stand
France should keep its president, but likely will not.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy greets supporters in Paris, April 15, 2012.

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Defending (some of) his reforms and fighting for his political life, M. Sarkozy has accused M. Hollande of “appalling amateurism” and contended that his extreme prescriptions are, at worst, a recipe for economic disaster and, at best, a publicity stunt. He has a point, since a French-senate study from 2009 shows that only 0.01 percent of taxpayers have a yearly income of €1 million, meaning just 3,523 households would be affected by the 75 percent rate proposed by his opponent. (One could, perhaps, regard the proposition as a Gallic Buffett Rule.)

Some might be tempted to ask, “So what?” But it is worth remembering that one of the reasons so few French taxpayers would be affected by a tax aimed at millionaires is that similar existing policies have already driven high earners out of the country in droves. Adding to the number of its productive expats is something that France can ill afford.

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M. Sarkozy is no Mrs. Thatcher, and in an American context he would struggle to win election even in our most liberal states. He retreated significantly from his reforming zeal after the financial crisis hit in 2008, announcing in September of that year that “laissez-faire capitalism is over” and denouncing the “dictatorship of the market.” He even responded to the charges of his right-of-center critics by rhetorically musing, “Have I become socialist? Perhaps.” (Although this may have been shrewd political triangulation more than a case of genuine realignment.) Compared to his opponent, however, he is Milton Friedman.

This year’s election is in part a referendum on the president’s reforms, and in part another installation of the perennial debate about redistribution versus growth. M. Sarkozy has argued repeatedly that France could quite easily start to resemble moribund Spain if it adopts the “socialism” of its southern neighbor. This is a warning worth heeding. M. Hollande wants, in addition to his tax pledges, a minimum-wage increase, which he claims will give the economy “a little push to catch up what hasn’t been done in the past.” Sarkozy vehemently opposes such a move, warning on Europe 1 radio recently that “everyone in France is aware of what’s happening to Spain. It’s the result of seven years of socialism with the same policies that M. Hollande is promoting.”

President Sarkozy’s fears for France are well founded. Although he beat M. Hollande’s then-wife Segolene Royale in the presidential election of 2007, the Parti Socialist won most regional and local elections that year, and in 2011 it took control of the Senate. Should François Hollande win the election, making Nicolas Sarkozy the first one-term French president since 1981, he will have a clear opportunity to undo much of what the president has achieved at home and abroad. France’s economy has not turned around in the way that the president had hoped. Fundamentally, though, his ideas are sound, and they lean in the right direction. If France is to weather the economic storm that still rages, it will be better off under Nicolas Sarkozy than under François Hollande.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.



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