In recent weeks Nicolas Sarkozy has worried free marketeers for his efforts to protect the French car industry. The Wall Street Journal accused the French President of "egregious patriotisme économique" after warning Peugeot Citreon and Renault to keep car plants out of the Czech Republic. He has also backed away from school reforms after fearing student unrest.
Once thought to be more Eurosceptic he has become an ardent supporter of the Union – defending the Lisbon process from his critics. His Europeanism hasn’t stopped him from serious fallouts with Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Neither has it stopped him from supporting a much warmer French-American relationship and he aims for France to soon rejoin NATO as a full member.
One of Sarkozy’s political gifts has been to defy simple political categorisation and steal the best ideas from his political opponents. This was Newsweek’s take on President Sarkozy’s ‘volontarisme’:
"Despite a long career brandishing conservative Gaullist credentials, his most important political credo is what the French call volontarisme, his faith in the ability to influence events through sheer willpower. To that end, he adopts whichever policies look like they’ll work, and whichever put him out front. On his way to the presidency, Sarkozy proved himself a genius at co-opting the most popular political ideas of his potential opponents. As interior minister, he proved he could exploit fear of immigrants and a widespread sense of public insecurity just as effectively as the far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen—long a spoiler in French politics—and without the heavy taint of anti-Semitism that accrued to the National Front. On the left, he brought Socialist stars like Bernard Kouchner into his cabinet. Sarkozy also supported the bid of former Socialist economy minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a potential presidential contender himself, to be appointed as head of the International Monetary Fund."
The same Newsweek article – written by Christopher Dickey and Tracy McNicoll – notes the powers of Sarkozy: "If there is a power in heaven that could call Sarkozy to account, there’s certainly none in the French Parliament." They note the disarray of both the Socialist opposition and of the Far Right and also the fact that he controls 55% of votes in the national parliament. The Newsweek feature also notes his attempts to influence the French media:
"More disturbing still is the way Sarkozy tries to manipulate France’s mainstream media, the last embattled bastion of his critics. As a government minister, his personal calls to reporters who had dared to disrespect him were legendary. His close friendships with media bosses are also well known. How much self-censorship Sarkozy’s influence has elicited is unknowable, but, to take one silly example, the weekly picture magazine Paris Match airbrushed away Sarkozy’s love handles when he was photographed in a swimsuit on his first summer vacation as president. Now, rather more seriously, Sarkozy is rewriting the laws governing broadcast media in France: the head of the government networks known as France Télévisions will now be named by the president. And, despite France’s massive and worsening public deficit, Sarkozy is seeing through a promise he made earlier this year to phase out advertising from public television. Questions have been raised about how much ad revenue he’s going to be putting in the hands of private networks owned by his political allies."
Sarkozy intends to use his power. His language on the economic crisis is stark: "This crisis, we must face up to it without fail. This crisis, it must not incite us to hold back; it must incite us to act, to act fast, and to act forcefully." No longer distracted by being President of the EU Council of Ministers – a role he enjoyed and pursued with passion – his energies are now refocused on France. It’s difficult to guess where those energies will lead France.