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Sarkozy's Union-Bashing Barb

Jul 16, 2008
Sometimes a politician can believe his or her own spin just a little too much that it leaves many onlookers gasping in disbelief and checking their ears to make sure they've heard correctly

Such has been the case here in France since Saturday when the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, came up with what surely has to be the most unlikely interpretation of recent events in this country.

Speaking to a gathering of the governing Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party faithful, Sarkozy had the temerity to declare that strikes were of no consequence in France any longer.

"France has changed so quickly and much more deeply than we can imagine," he said with a huge smile on his face.

"From now on whenever there's a strike in France, nobody notices it," he maintained.

Evidence, as far as he was concerned, of the success of both his politics and that of the UMP.

It was a remark which of course received thunderous applause from the gathered party faithful, but has left many observers wondering which planet Sarkozy has been living on for the past year, let alone which country.

What was commonly known as the British disease in the 1970s has over the last couple of decades become something of a French malaise. And even since Sarkozy took over the reins of power 14 months ago, the French have been going about their daily business - work - and their seemingly national pastime - striking - with alarming regularity.

Forgotten it would seem was the week-long mayhem throughout the country last November as France was literally brought to a standstill when transport workers went on strike to protest against planned pension reform.

January's demonstrations by taxi drivers in cities up and down France over a government-commissioned report proposing to deregulate the granting of licences, or fishermen blocking ports to demand compensation for rising fuel prices seem to have slipped Sarkozy's mind.

There again it's easy to ignore the uncomfortable as in both cases the government caved in to pressure.

Maybe Sarkozy had a case of selective recall following the series of protests in spring by schoolchildren, teachers and parents against planned job cuts in education. Or the day of (in)action by civil servants over similar job losses. And let's not forget that just last week lorry drivers yet again blocked major arteries around Paris, causing massive tailbacks as they continued their demands for compensation in the face of rising fuel prices.

Perhaps there was supposed to be a certain irony in Sarkozy's comments. He is after all in supremely confident mood at the moment and undoubtedly on a certain wave of euphoria after welcoming "home" Ingrid Betancourt - regardless of France's questionable (non)role in her liberation.

And of course he's head honcho in a manner of speaking of the 27-member European Union for the next six months as France holds the rotating presidency, and he'll oversee the launch next weekend of the Mediterranean Union in spite of opposition from many of his European partners.

But probably his comments should be taken more as a simple case of remobilising the troops on the domestic front ahead of the long summer break and before the autumn politicking recommences. That'll be just the time incidentally when the Socialist party should be making the headlines as it tries to "pull together" and overcome its own internal divisions by electing a new party leader.

Sarkozy's remarks might not have played well with the man and woman in the street, but as his approval ratings have shown - currently stuck in the mid-30s - he seems to have decided that popularity isn't everything it's cracked up to be.

Plus it cannot have done too much harm preaching to the converted and taking pot shots at the perceived inefficacy of the unions and the opposition Socialist party in the face of a government that seems determined to crush both.
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specializing in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com
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