Following a slow start, Sarkozy took off the brakes and embarked on a quick series of reforms. More importantly, he is succeeding. The Economist notes: “Yet in recent weeks Mr Sarkozy’s government has managed to pass a string of reforms—and to do so without running into that traditional bugbear of French presidents, mass protests in the streets.” The authors go on to suggest that he merely enjoys the good luck of having unrelated factor realign in a favorable manner:
The first is that he and his advisers realized, perhaps belatedly, that there really is no alternative: that, on the back of his thumping majorities in both the presidential and parliamentary elections last year, Mr Sarkozy has to deliver his manifesto pledges of radical change and a promise to put France back to work if he is to retain any credibility at all with voters.A second factor is the continuing weakness of the opposition Socialist Party, which has helped to offset his own deep personal unpopularity.
And the third, perhaps most decisive and least expected, has been the taming of France’s notoriously bolshy trade unions (see article).
Perhaps, but I cannot forget that the man has recently met with Benjamin Netanyahu who I heard attribute his own successful reforms to a policy of bunching them. He knew the needed reforms would meet opposition but he thought that it would be easier in the long run if the protests were bunched too. I have no secret evidence that Netanyahu explained his theory to Sarkozy but recent development lead me to that conclusion. Netanyahu, in turn, gives the credit to New Zealand’s former Finance Minister Sir Roger Douglas:
“Sir Roger has bold ideas. He really gets down to the bone. To the core of it.”Netanyahu singles out another valuable contribution - “you cannot do reforms too fast” - which he absorbed from Douglas’ book Unfinished Business.
“What I learned from New Zealand was this. Seeing we were going to have a general strike for any one of these reforms, we may as well maximize the number of reforms for the strike.
“This is not conventional wisdom. Usually you are supposed to isolate the fronts.
“But especially after a victory in elections, you have to move fast with great rapidity and great boldness. “
In any case, I am delighted to read this morning that Sarkozy embarked on political as well as economic reforms. Moreover, instead of castigating the Irish for their EU vote, Sarkozy has decided to join them, sort of. At the very least, he proposes to make it more difficult for EU grandees to force further enlargements down their citizens’ throats by increasing the chances that such enlargement would have to pass popular muster. Spiegel reports:
“French President Nicolas Sarkozy narrowly pushed through a reform to France’s constitution last week that creates the prospect of more referenda in the future on the key European Union issue of expansion. . . .
There are conditions on the new reform, though: Parliament, for example, can put the brakes on any EU referendum. In order to do so, members of parliament in both the lower and upper chambers — the French National Assembly and the Senate — must vote with a three-fifths majority either for or against a country’s accession.
Spiegel calls it an experiment in direct democracy. I would not go so far as an overwhelming majority in parliament can block the referendum. Still, it is better than continuing to enlarge the EU by enlarging its already far too large democratic gap. ”
I do not mean to ignore the elephant in the room. Sarkozy does not wish to see Turkey become part of the EU. He knows that a popular referendum would most probably result in saying no to Turkey and that may be the reason for the reform. I happen to believe that actually joining the EU is less important to Turkey than negotiating such a possibility. Even the latter has become secondary as Turkey has already passed the most beneficial reforms and, economically, the country has been pretty much integrated into the Union.
Either way, reforms outlast the specific reasons that led to their passage and this reform may make French citizens feel less slighted and even encourage other European countries to follow the referendum suit and that can only be for the good.
Either way, reforms outlast the specific reasons that led to their passage and this reform may make French citizens feel less slighted, may encourage other European countries to follow the referendum suit and that can only be for the good.
Finally, what keeps Republicans awake at night is fear that Barack Obama with the help of large democratic Congressional majorities plans a similar legislative avalanche. They are right to worry. After all, what is food for the goose is also food for the gander and we know so little about what is in the food except that we will have to eat it.
For more on my History News Network blog, click here
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here