Tuesday, September 17, 2019

European Politics Essay

Not long after taking office as President, Nicolas Sarkozy initiated a bold agenda of sweeping governmental and economic reform which enflamed controversy and engendered violent confrontation within the French government and among the French population regarding both the state of economic parity within French society, and France’s role in a swiftly changing global-political climate. Sarkozy, a former member of the National Assembly, a two-time appointee as Minister of the Interior, and a past President of the UMP, rose to prominence as a widely popular (and also widely unpopular) figure in the conservative wing of French politics. Although Sarkozy’s personal and romantic life as well as his financial dealings and his â€Å"public image† have all fallen under the intense scrutiny of the French and International media, the most controversial issues associated with President Sarkozy have generally been and continue to be issue and policy oriented. Prior to being elected President, Sarkozy made International news headlines when, as Minister of the Interior, â€Å"Sarkozy, insisted that Muslim women pose bare-headed for official identity photographs† (Scott, 2005), a move which provoked a storm of opposition within France and throughout the globe. However, Sarkozy’s intentions were even much wider than revealed by his policy regarding identity photos; Sarkozy’s â€Å"main recommendation, accepted by Chirac in January 2004, was for a law prohibiting the wearing of ostentatious signs of religious affiliation in public schools. This is now the law of the land† (Scott, 2005). Sarkozy’s record prior to becoming President indicated that he was a man unafraid to pursue a controversial course of action. As president, one of Sarkozy’s first publically criticized actions was his handling of a Libyan hostage crisis which involved the retrieval of Belgian health-care workers who had been held in Libya. In return for releasing the Belgians, the Libyan dictator Gaddafi was able to gain President Sarkozy’s signature on a treaty which transferred hundreds of millions of euros, along with important military equipment to Libya. This move was met not only with criticism but with a call for an investigation at the parlimentary level which was requested by the head of the French Socialist Party. Although this single example may seem slight in light of the forthcoming discussion regarding governmental reform and the EU policy on climate change which will form the heart of the present study of Sarkozy’s administration, the incident is illustrative of the odd duality which seems to stamp itself on many of Sarkozy’s policies, programs, and initiatives. The duality is one rooted on one side in what many might consider a superficial, yet effective, understanding of public image and political theater; on the other side, it is rooted in what many might call brutally pragmatic economics. Critics of Sarkozy go further than to call the President an economic pragmatist. Many members of Sarkozy’s own conservative party, the UMP, have criticized the President for being a strong advocate of free-trade while simultaneously backing sweeping reforms in the working-class sector including his â€Å"loi de modernisation de l’economie† (Lawday, 2007), or â€Å"Modernization of the Economy Law† which in addition to relaxing federal restrictions on retail prices and work-regulations, allowed workers who worked over thirty-five hours a week to collect their overtime pay tax-free. If, basically, Sarkozy’s economic policies reflect â€Å"a free-market, self-responsibility venture that he claims every advanced country in Europe, from Britain to those in Scandinavia, and lately Germany, has adopted to its advantage† (Lawday, 2007) they also reflect an essentially conservative philosophy which stands in odd contrast to Sarkozy’s iconoclastic image as an agent of change. As one observer phrased it, Sarkozy’s economic philosophy and national economic program â€Å"represents not so much novelty as catch-up politics with a conservative twist† (Lawday, 2007) and, as such, Sarkozy’s economic programs include the curbing of labor unions and their power. These aspects of Sarkozy’s approach to government and economic matters leaves little room for doubt that — at least in relation to financial matters — the President is a true conservative, although his vision may be, overall, a bit more modern than that which is commonly associated with conservatism, the end-result is the same. Sarkozy’s economic philosophies are important not only because they impact one of the most crucial sectors of public policy and governmental influence in France — the economy — but also because they indicate the aforementioned duality of purpose and bearing which seems to stand as part and parcel of Sarkozy’s political career. If on e the one hand, Sarkozy wanted to â€Å"amend the 35-hour working week so that it is no longer the reposeful regulation it implies† (Lawday, 2007), he also sought to simultaneously â€Å"force strikers to maintain a minimum service for trains, buses and other public services† (Lawday, 2007) and to â€Å"slice into the bloated state bureaucracy, where the unions are strongest, by permitting one replacement for every two retiring government office workers† (Lawday, 2007) while at the same time admitting — in the face of the recent global economic crisis — that laissez faire capitalism is dead. The economic platform and policies which Sarkozy has advocated indicate that — above all else — Sarkozy is a pragmatist. This fact is s very useful fact because, by keeping it firmly in mind, a more complete understanding of Sarkozy the politician can be gained. In point of fact, most of what passes for â€Å"populism’ in Sarkozy’s public image is precisely due to his pragmatic approach. His populist reputation as a French nationalist who is for robust immigration reform may collide somewhat uncomfortably with his status as the (rotating) President of the European Union, just as his stand on unions collides with his recent, public statements regarding socialism where Sarkozy responded to the question: have you become a socialist? — with the answer â€Å"Maybe† (Lawday, 2007). Sarkozy’s radicalism — which stands in sharp contrasts to his fiscal conservatism and his conservatism on issues such as immigration and unions — manifests itself not in ideology, necessarily, but within the framework of his aforementioned pragmatism. In other words, Sarkozy may be a populist to the extent that he adopts positions which will curry favor with French Nationalists, such as the â€Å"headscarf† legislation mentioned at the opening of this paper, he may be a fiscal conservative bent on busting the unions and generating a productive working class base for French society, but in each case his convictions, while arguably difficult to pin down under a single umbrella of ideology, are always enacted by way of robust action. Sarkozy may be many things, but one thing he certainly is not is a dawdler. One of the most illustrative examples of Sarkozy’s style and substance as a leader, and specifically as the President of France, is his massive reform of French government and the displacement of governmental power. Although — as will be demonstrated shorty — Sarkozy’s controversial reforms to French government have the design and purpose of bringing the government into the modern era of global-politics and allowing for a more efficiently run government within France itself, the same reforms have been assailed by Sarkozy;’s critics, primarily by the French Socialist party, as being tantamount to instating a dictatorship in France with Sarkozy himself enthroned as dictator. Although the specificities and complexities of Sarkozy’s reforming of French government pose much too vast a too vast to exhaust within the confines of this short discussion, the overall impact and intention of his reform policies offer profound insight into not Sarkozy’s ambitions as President but into the potentially radical reshaping of French government as well as France’s relationship to the EU. Before delving into the specifics of the reform legislation, it is useful to remember just how the French Constitution regarded the separation of governmental powers and — more importantly — what role the President of France was accorded by the Fifth Republic’s Constitution. Because Sarkozy’s program of governmental reform offers, as a centerpiece, the apparent expansion of Presidential power and authority, while simultaneously strengthening the role and power of parliament, sorting out the specific angles by which Sarkozy enabled the expansion of Presidential power can be quite difficult to achieve. However, the role of the French President, according to the Fifth Republic’s Constitution was limited: â€Å"Article 5 [†¦ ] states that the President â€Å"‘Provides by their arbitration for the regular functioning of the public authorities and the continuity of the State’† (Bell, 2000, p. 15), with nothing mentioned about the President’s own power to legislate. This aspect of the Constitution is the key area by which Sarkozy sought to expand, in the eyes of the anti-reformers, Presidential power. Specifically, the most controversial aspect of the reform-laws was Sarkozy’s † plan to allow the president to address parliament, opening up the possibility of a US State of the Union-style address. That has not been permitted since 1875, in an attempt to keep the executive and legislative branches separate† (BBC News), and it is by this seemingly simple move that Sarkozy expanded Presidential authority while simultaneously seeming to limit that same authority. Because the Fifth Republic’s Constitution calls for the President to function as an â€Å"arbitrator† the American-style Presidency of the President as the leader of the legislature, addressing parliament, becomes a specter of dread to those who view this as an incursion on the Constitutional separation of powers. While it is true that â€Å"Article 5, which implicitly restricts the Presidency, has been a subject of controversy† (Bell, 2000, p. 15), Sarkozy’s expansion of Presidential authority has proven to be even more divisive. Sarkozy’s plan to rewrite the Fifth Republic’s Constitution represents the two primary aspects of his governing style which have formed the roots of the current discussion; these aspects are his inherent conservatism and his obvious pragmatism. The reform legislation introduced radical, pragmatic steps toward affecting sweeping change in France and rewrote the French Constitution, but while Sarkozy verbalized his assurances that the reforms represented â€Å"‘Movement, change, modernity,'† (BBC News) as well as a victory for French democracy, the same reforms also contributed to the strengthening of Presidential authority and resulted in a divided parliament with Sarkozy’s reform bill passing â€Å"by 539 votes to 357 – one vote more than the three-fifths majority of the combined Assembly and Senate required to pass the reforms† BBC News), so if strengthening democracy was Sarkozy’s intention, his initial result was to divide the parliament and pass a sweeping reform to the French Constitution with next-to-no consensus. This fact in itself would seem to confirm the trepidation regarding his proposed reforms (now law) which engulfed his detractors in parliament. One of these detractor s, â€Å"Socialist senator Bernard Frimat told lawmakers before the vote at a special session at the Chateau of Versailles† (BBC News) that Sarkozy had offered a † â€Å"consolidation of ‘monocracy’,† (BBC News) but Sarkozy, always careful to play to populist ideas and ideals, counter-weighted the expansion of Presidential authority with corresponding limits and restrictions on the French Presidency. The reform laws while strengthening the President’s role in the legislature also limit the President to two five year terms, â€Å"gives parliament a veto over some presidential appointments, ends government control over parliament’s committee system, allows parliament to set its own agenda, and ends the president’s right of collective pardon† (BBC News). Seemingly, by these latter reforms, Sarkozy was interested in limiting not expanding the powers of the French President; however the telling point of the reform laws as they relate to the French Presidency lies within the mere expansion of the President’s role as a lawmaker rather than, as the Fifth Republic’s Constitution advocated, a â€Å"a neutral ‘umpire’ who has three principal tasks: i) to see that the Constitution is respected; ii) to ‘arbitrate’ to ensure the continuity of the state; iii) to be vigilant on the issues of national independence, territorial i ntegrity and the respect for treaties† (Bell, 2000, p. 16). Sarkozy’s vision of the President — and the reform legislation he was able to enact to realize this vision — stands in direct opposition to Article 5 of the French Constitution. Sarkozy’s radical pragmatism extends beyond the parameters and confines of French domestic issues into the realm of International affairs. As the acting President of the European Union, Sarkozy has applied a similarly â€Å"hands on† approach to issues of international importance such as climate change. As illustrated by Sarkozy’s reform legislation and the somewhat concealed agenda therein which provided for the expansion of Presidential authority, Sarkozy seems to have adopted a similar approach to his position as EU President. On the topic of global warming and climate change, Sarkozy has proven to be as pragmatic and as forceful as he was on the issues of crime, immigration, and government reform in France. At the thirty-third summit of the G8, Sarkozy offered a plan to reduce French CO2 emissions by half and what followed was the adoption of this concept by the G8 nations as a whole. Although the agreement which was reached at the summit was non-binding, Sarkozy’s lead enabled the G8 nations to put forth a collective plan to cut in half the global emissions of greenhouse gasses. Sarkozy continued to push for a binding agreement, but his efforts proved futile. Nevertheless, his approach to the issue of climate change represented, as his approach to governmental reform. a pragmatic and comprehensive approach to a hard problem. Of interest is the fact that the binding agreement regarding greenhouse gas emissions was apparently blocked by the United States with its President, George W, Bush, citing the refusal of third-world nations to also enter into the agreement. Responding tot his obstacle, Sarkozy turned his efforts not toward America or the Third World, but to China, utilizing his status as EU President to put forward a comprehensive and progressive energy policy which included a collaborative effort with the Chinese. Sarkozy’s successful brokering of a deal on energy adn climate change between the EU adn China marks one of the most important accomplishments of his pragmatic and often radical approach to governing. It is due to this combination of tenacity and creativity that Sarkozy has evolved from a controversial cabinet member in the French government known mostly for being a strong conservative to an actor on the world stage who seems to be equal parts populist and conservative. It is, perhaps, not necessary, to understand which of the aspects, conservative or populist is dominant in Sarkozy, it is possibly not even that important to understand, at a personal, human level, which aspect represents more honestly Sarkozy’s own world-view. While some observers may claim that Sarkozy’s populism is merely a smokescreen to conceal his ambitious moves toward a consolidation of personal power, others may claim, with good reason, that Sarkozy’s populism represents a genuine attempt to represent the global sea-change which has currently cast global economics and world-affairs into an ambiguous and dangerous place. No matter which of these perspectives lies closer to the objective truth of Sarkozy the man, the result of Sarkozy’s actions as a world-leader will involve much more than a consideration of President Sarkozy’s motives. One of the most compelling aspects of Sarkozy as a world leader is his simultaneous insistence of modernity while maintaining an acute, almost reverential, respect for the past. Like the other dualities apparent in Sarkozy’s governing style adn thinking style, this duality of â€Å"past vs. future† manifest, in Sarkozy, not as an abstract idealogy but in pragmatic application. In addition to his highly controversial reforms in regard to economics, government, unions, immigration, and climate change, Sarkozy has also generated a great deal of controversy regarding his position of cultural subjects and education in France. While seeming to be a strong nationalist with a true conservative’s reverence for tradition, Sarkozy has readily admitted that France has failed to â€Å"democratize† its culture and that in doing so, accomplished â€Å"one of the chief failures of the past 50 years of French government† (â€Å"Sarkozy out to ‘Democratize’,† 2007, p. B01). As always, his suggested course of action revealed a blend of populism and conservatism and fused the cultural concerns of France with the power of the French government: â€Å"Sarkozy defined â€Å"democratisation de la culture† as providing the means for the largest number of people to understand and appreciate Sophocles, Shakespeare and Racine. He added that the purpose of education is to â€Å"teach you how to tell the difference between ‘Madame Bovary’ and a police blotter, or between ‘Antigone’ and ‘Harry Potter. ‘ Later, you can read what you like. † (â€Å"Sarkozy out to ‘Democratize’,† 2007, p. B01) In conclusion, Sarkozy’s style of governing offers a curious and sometimes uncomfortable blend of populism and conservatism. In the area of domestic policy, he has proven to be both radical in his approach and keenly aware of the political impact of his pragmatic reforms, on international issues he has proven to be creative, opportunistic, and decisive. While Sarkozy’s bold embracing of â€Å"modernity† may be authenticated by his actions in some cases, many of his policies and programs reveal an essentially conservative politician who seeks, not merely reform, but the type of reform which ensures the continuation of his carefully crafted ideological beliefs.

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