Sarkozy is on the ropes – and he doesn’t look like recovering soon
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In the past few months Nicolas Sarkozy has, along with his international ally Angela Merkel, dominated the international press as the crisis in the Eurozone rumbles on.
He has been at the forefront of the concerted efforts to rescue the ailing currency and was the principle proponent of the EU version of the Tobin tax that so irked David Cameron last month. With the French President in a unique position of power in the Eurozone arguably he should have more than a fighting chance in the French presidential elections in three months’ time.
However, currently he is languishing in the polls. If anything a Sarkozy defeat is becoming more of an inevitability than a possibility. He is on a manic schedule to portray himself as the “hyper-president” and the charm and his famous wife, Carla Bruni, that made him a household name around the world seem to have little effect on his standing amongst French voters. Even Sarkozy himself seems resigned to defeat.
The reality is Sarkozy’s reputation was always going to be based on the economy. He himself wanted to put France back at the centre of the European economy, overtaking rivals in Germany and the UK. He wanted Paris to be the centre of world finance, not London. He wanted the people of France to work longer to create an even more prosperous nation. He pledged to French bankers working in London that the success of his presidency would be based upon whether those bankers would be working in Paris by the end of his term. He was going to be the man to resurrect French economic fortunes.
However, this did not turn out according to plan. French unemployment is nearing 10%, their banks are struggling to deal with the crisis in Italy and they recently lost their AAA credit rating after Standard & Poors’ downgrade. Sarkozy has recently announced a €430 million plan to boost jobs in the country in an attempt to stave off attacks on his economic creditability by election rival Francois Hollande. However, the flecks of grey in his hair say it all – he is struggling under the burden of trying to stop the economic tsunami that has reached French shores.
Sarkozy’s downfall could have serious consequences for the crisis in the Eurozone. The crisis has been marked by how closely France and Germany have worked together while trying to get the continent’s struggling economies under control. The deal struck in December for greater scrutiny of national budgets by the EU was criticised by Hollande, the socialist candidate likely to be the next president, and it remains to be seen how the socialists would tackle the Euro’s problems. It could leave many of the agreements under threat should France become far colder to the latest round of German enforced austerity. This would not be a great time for a dramatic turnaround in French economic policy.
Another point that Sarkozy’s rise and fall has brought up is its own resemblance to our Prime Minister’s fortunes. David Cameron was elected and carries support because of his claims to be able to reduce the UK’s structural deficit and help revive the economy. His fate is inextricably linked to the future prospects of growth and recovery in the British economy. Cameron may be enjoying the polls now but, as in the case of Sarkozy, continued problems in the economy – and the likelihood is things will get worse in the next 12 months – could well spend the end for another of Europe’s right-wing leaders.
However, for Sarkozy the chance of a humiliating third place in the polls behind Marine Le Pen of the Front National is still possible if unlikely according to the current polls – she is on 18% to Sarkozy’s 23% – but the President is six points behind Hollande and it appears unlikely he will be able to improve his popularity enough to catch him before the first round of voting begins in April. As Sarkozy said while unveiling his jobs plan: “The current economic situation in France as in Europe is very perilous. It’s urgent.” For Nicolas Sarkozy it certainly is urgent. And he is fast running out of time.