Sarkozy lights the fuse

2007

It looks like I picked the right week to talk about to France; President Nicolas Sarkozy has set the stage for almost certain strikes (or "social movements" as they're fondly referred to there) over the next few weeks.

As you may recall during the run-up to the campaign, Sarkozy vowed vigorous social reform, notably in terms of immigration and pensions. With successful legislative elections safely behind him, he hasn't wasted any time moving these reforms center stage.

These pension reforms are primarily aimed at removing "advantages" enjoyed by public sector workers. These include working longer – both on a weekly basis and yearly basis. This means rolling back the 35-hour work week and making early retirement a thing of the past.

Before Sarkozy gets too far ahead of himself, he needs to keep two things in mind: reforms are definitely needed to some extent; he must choose to be the unpopular leader who pushes them through. Secondly, and more importantly, the French do not appreciate changes made forcibly and quickly.

He will also need to recall learned lessons from previous attempts to make sweeping reforms – especially when dealing with the public sector.

I hope that he'll spend the time to treat the French as his equal and clearly explain why reforms are needed and why everyone needs to share in the sacrifice of reigning in the national deficit. Unfortunately, tact and patience isn't really his style, so I think it's safe to expect paralyzing strikes across France this autumn.

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