The street is an odd element in France's Fifth Republic, very much part of the system. Charles de Gaulle created a political order that he accurately characterized as an "elected monarchy." There are few checks on the president's power. The prime minister tends to be significantly less important than key presidential advisers, and Parliament is a joke. The only real debate, opposition and counterbalance to the president comes from the street, and so it has become part of the French way of politics, one that the public seems to understand and accept. But this time, the president is banking on the fact that the public wants change, and will, for once, side with the palace and against the street. He appears to be right. Public sympathy is not with the strikers. Timing is everything in politics, and Nicolas Sarkozy's greatest distinction might prove to be that he has arrived at just the right moment.It makes you appreciate anew the checks and balances established in our own system so that we're not dependent on large street protests to serve as a check on a president. Whatever fears you might have of President Bush or Speaker Pelosi governing without any checks, we've really witnessed how our system has, in many ways, been functioning as the Founders wished with checks on our elected leaders. Such checks make it extremely difficult to make any great change, but at least we're not depending on street riots and mass strikes to serve as a counter to an elected leader. Perhaps the French are getting quite tired of this situation and are finally willing to give support to a determined leader who wants to change the paralyzing pensions and labor rules that are serving as a great brake on the French economy. I wish all the best of luck to President Sarkozy.
If he is able to win this battle, Sarkozy will be able to press forward with a series of reforms, each begetting the next. The cumulative effect of these changes could unleash a wave of optimism, which is itself hugely beneficial to a country's economy. France would embrace the new global economy rather than fretting about it.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Fareed Zakaria ponders the changes that are possible now that Sarkozy has seemingly won a victory over the rail workers in France. He points out that politics works differently in France than we're used to in the United States.