In what country are
there currently two official candidates for the presidency, both aiming to be
the first of their kind to win the highest office in their country; one who is
an ambitious son of an immigrant father with a foreign sounding name, and
another who is an ambitious woman and mother? No, it is not in the United
States. It is in France. I will introduce you to the major candidates for the
presidency of France and their foreign policies that are of interest to
The son of an
immigrant father is Nicolas Sarkozy, popularly called �Sarko.� He is the
candidate of the center-right UMP Party. The most interesting thing about �Sarko�
for Americans is that he is an admirer of former New York City mayor Rudy
Giuliani, and his political attitudes and personal demeanor are much like those
immigrated to France from Hungary just after the Second World War II to escape
the Communist government, because of the father�s aristocratic family
background. His mother is French. However, his father left his mother when
Sarkozy was a child, and his family had to be supported financially by his
maternal grandfather. Sarkozy does not hide the fact that he hates his father
and that he had to overcome financial difficulties by hard work. Sarkozy worked
his way through a non-elite university (Nanterre) and eventually became a
lawyer, specializing in business law.
image is again much like that of Giuliani; being that of a competent �tough
guy.� He is a very skilled politician, an excellent speaker and very combative
with journalists who ask him hardball questions. He is often called �Sarko� the
power hose (as in power washer), because of some of his comments about how to
deal with violent youth. In the fall of 2005, when teenagers were rioting and
burning cars in the poor suburbs of some large French cities, Sarkozy labeled
them scum, dregs and hoodlums. Many of his critics regard him as a racist,
because many of the rioting youth where from Arab North African and Black
African families. Although Sarkozy may not be a racist, he has little sympathy
for people who act their frustrations in indolence or crime, rather than
seeking work -- even though France has a high rate of unemployment (about 9
Sarkozy has acquired
extensive political experience. He was first elected deputy (representative) to
the National Assembly in 1988. In center�right governments, he has been
minister of the Budget (like the Office of Budget and Management); minister of
Finance (economic planning) and is currently minister of the Interior (national
police and intelligence services) in President Chirac�s government. He was also
elected head of the UMP Party in 2004.
Sarkozy speaks a lot
about foreign policy, in part, because it highlights the weakness of the other
two major candidates and because he knows his stuff. �Sarko� is more
pro-American than any other candidate, but he makes it clear that a solid
alliance does not mean subservience. His possible election is likely to benefit
Americans, but not the Bush government. �Sarko� traveled to the U.S. last
September and lavished praise on the country. He even noted that he has
relatives in the U.S., from the Hungarian side of his family. Nevertheless, he
has called the war in Iraq �an historic mistake� and praised President Chirac
for keeping France out of the war. Sarkozy agrees with Bush�s opinion that �the
idea of Iran having nuclear weapons is unacceptable.� But, he rules out any
military attack on Iran as being dangerously counter-productive.
Sarkozy is very
different from American conservatives, because he supports government
intervention in the economy. This economic philosophy, supported by both left
and right in French society, has a long tradition going back centuries to the
time of the monarchy. (The French have a word for it, �dirigisme,� loosely
meaning giving direction. In contrast, government �laissez-faire,� or hands
off, is a distinctly American economic philosophy.) Sarkozy agrees with
President Chirac, who has recently written in his book that the ideology of
pure free market and free trade (called �liberalism� in France) is doomed to
fail, much like Communism.
announced some foreign policy positions that are likely to provoke a bit of
irritation in Washington. He supports the development of a European military
force (from the E.U. countries), independent of NATO and he wants France to
build a second aircraft carrier. He also announced that he is opposed to Turkey
being accepted into the European Union. All of these positions are contrary to
those preferred by the Bush administration.
foreign policy position taken by Sarkozy, contrary to those of Bush is that
Sarkozy wants to reduce the value of the euro currency relative to the dollar.
This would help European Union exports, such as those of the currently troubled
Airbus Company, which builds passenger jets. It would be pleasing to American
tourists in Europe and to American consumers who purchase products from the
E.U. But, of course, it would make American products more expensive to export,
such as the passenger jets built by Boeing which competes with Airbus.
Segolene Royal, the
candidate from the Socialist Party, offers a sharp contrast with the
hard-boiled, intensive Sarkozy. She expresses soft-spoken self-confidence and
appears to exude compassion, albeit quite deliberately. She is a proud,
self-professed feminist, but very different from Hillary Clinton, who must deny
being a feminist to placate traditionalist Americans. In addition, Mme. Royal
takes full political advantage of the fact that she is the mother of four
children. (In the United States, this fact would create a problem with
right-wing Christians, because Mme. Royal never married her life-partner,
Francois Hollande, who happens to be head of the French Socialist party.
Moreover, Hollande once sought to become the presidential candidate of the party,
but deferred to his mate.
Mme. Royal was born
into a very poor family of eight children, whose father was a low-level army
officer. Young Segolene had to overcome many obstacles to a political career,
because her reactionary father opposed any academic education for girls.
Nevertheless, she persisted against his will and was able to gain entry to two
of the most prestigious and intellectually demanding universities in France,
the Institute for Political Studies (�Sciences Po�), and the graduate school,
National School of Administration (ENA). Her training is in public
administration (from ENA), which forms the background of many in the French
Segolene Royal has
had considerable political experience. She was first elected a deputy to the
National Assembly in 1988 and has served there, on and off, until the present.
She has also served in Socialist governments as vice-minister of the
Environment, vice-minister of Education and vice-minister of Family and
Childhood. Mme. Royal has tended to campaign on family and social welfare
issues, rather than on issues of financial management and foreign policy.
Segolene Royal has a
public image as a �lightweight,� lacking knowledge in matters of foreign
policy. She has said very little about her proposed foreign policies. She has
contributed to this unfortunate public image by making numerous faux pas in
speaking about foreign policy issues. For example, in January, in a meeting
with the head of the Parti Quebecois, she stated that she supported the sovereignty
of Quebec and the Parti Quebecois� desire for Quebec to secede from Canada. Her
statement, of course, set off a firestorm of criticism claiming that she was
na�ve in matters of foreign affairs. She compounded her problem while on a trip
to China, in a misguided attempt to flatter her Chinese hosts, when she
complimented the Chinese for their quick system of justice, compared with that
of France. (Her opponents were quick to point out that China executes over
10,000 prisoners a year; while capital punishment is prohibited in France.)
In terms of military
issues, Mme. Royal opposes the construction of another aircraft carrier, and
said that the money would better be used to improve education and scientific
research in France.
Most of Mme. Royal�s
positions on foreign policy are simply matters of shear speculation. On the
other side of the Atlantic, it is likely that the conservative Bush government
would be even more unhappy with a Socialist government in power in France than
they are with their old nemesis Jacques Chirac. In the past, the Socialists
have been very critical of American economic policies and American popular
culture (especially violence in the movies).
At this point in
early March, Royal and Sarkozy are running neck and neck in the public opinion
polls, as if this were a two-way race. However, a third candidate is fast on
their heels, and might even replace one of them on the first ballot, as one of
the two highest vote getters.
Francois Bayrou has
emerged as a possible choice for voters who dislike the candidates of both
major political parties. He is a kind of protest candidate. Whether Bayrou can
play the role of �spoiler� in this election, as Le Pen did in the election of
2002, is still to be seen. (Le Pen is very unlikely to be a significant player
in this election.) At this point, Bayrou is mainly attracting voters away from
Mme. Royal, which would help Sarkozy.
Bayrou is an
attractive candidate because he has a reputation for speaking his mind frankly,
without relying upon advisors. Bayrou also has an unusual background for a
presidential candidate. He obtained a doctorate in Classics from the University
of Bordeaux (a school that does not train the elite in France) and then taught
French, Latin and Greek in an academic high school (lyc�e). He is also the respected author of a best
selling book about King Henry IV of France. In addition, after his father died,
he managed his family�s race horse farm. The background of Bayrou is very
different from the kind of person who reaches for the American presidency. The
only comparable American that I can think of was Eugene McCarthy, in 1968.
Bayrou has acquired
a reasonable amount of political experience. He has been a member of the
European Parliament, minister of Education in center-right governments and
elected head of the centrist UDF Party. Bayrou has been seeking the presidency
since the election of 2002, in which he placed a distant fourth on the first
ballot (at only about 7 percent).
image in France is that he is neither right nor left, as he himself says, but
that he is also vague and undecided about major issues. Bayrou�s main theme is
that all political action in France is blocked by the rivalry between the two
major parties, the right and the left. He advocates that he will put together a
government of people from the right and left who can deal with practical
with the United States, Bayrou says that he seeks the �third way,� like Bill
Clinton and Al Gore, whom he says he admires. (Gore happens to be very popular
in France, in part, because many people have seen his movie about global
warming, which the French take very seriously.) Bayrou has relatives in the
United States living in Des Moines, Iowa, whom he has often visited. Although
he may be knowledgeable about American life, he is critical of what he calls
the American �survival of the fittest� economic model, the excessive cost of a
college education and the financial stress on middle class families.
Bayrou speaks almost
entirely about domestic concerns and says very little at all about foreign
relations. He is well aware that most French people, like most Americans, have
little interest in foreign affairs; and he knows also, that those issues are
not his expertise. So, he focuses especially on issues dealing with making
education more effective and ways of helping poor youth to find employment.
However, he does advocate strengthening the European Union and reforming its
bureaucracy, to make it more effective and more responsive to the people of the
I would guess that
Francois Bayrou will become the �darling� of the conservative American media,
because he is less scary for them than the economic nationalist, Sarko, and the
leftist Socialist, Mme. Royal. In the current opinion polls, Bayrou is
obtaining about 20 percent of the possible vote, compared with about 26-28
percent for Sarkozy and 24-25 percent for Mme. Royal. So, Bayrou is in striking
distance of coming in second place on the first ballot on April 22.
Part 3 will deal
with domestic policies related to similar social problems in the U.S , such as
illegal immigration, youth violence and declining educational achievement.
Jeffrey Victor is a sociologist who lives in France during the winter
months, with his wife who is a French citizen. Responses are welcome at email@example.com.