Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Channel 4 - articles by Samantha David

 

SARKOZY UP 

 

      In France, Sarkozy's supporters boast that the French electorate has finally voted "yes" instead of "no". 

      Yes to their man's sweeping Thatcherite changes, and no to continued economic stagnation.  The French, they crow, are sick of the status quo.  They want a sea change.

      So, still arranging his suits at the Palais de l'Elysée, Nicolas Sarkozy is busy talking up his plans for "rupture" - basically a clean broom to sweep out the old Chirac fine wines and dust, and to usher in the new Sarko quasi-Thatcherite market liberalisation and economic reform.

      He doesn't have much time before the parliamentary elections in June, when his hand is expected to be fortified by a large majority for his party, the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire).  But in order not to lose momentum, he needs to get his new team sorted and pass some new laws prontissimo. 

      First up will probably be removing the heavy tax and social security contributions currently payable on hours worked overtime.  It is hoped that this will effectively deal a deathblow to the 35-hour week.  It will certainly chuck the gauntlet down fair and square in front of the unions.

      By mid June, the elections safely under his belt, Sarkozy should be holding a bunch of political aces and, shored up by a undeniably strong popular mandate for change, his stated plans include preventing the transport unions from paralysing the country "in solidarity" every time some other union strikes.

      Naturally this isn't going to be popular with the French left wing, but Sarkozy must be hoping that they will still be in disarray from their third successive beating at the presidential polls to put up much resistance.

      Still, the battlefield is littered with abandoned reforms and dead political careers.  Better than anyone, Sarkozy knows exactly what has happened to previous attempts to reform France and the French economy.  He is undoubtedly a smooth operator and a tough player, but Sarkozy will nevertheless be walking a tightrope. 

      The sons and daughters of the students who went to the barricades in 1968 are amongst the 47% who voted against him.  It wouldn't take much for them to rally again. 

      A general strike is not beyond the bounds of possibility, and if the demonstrations are determined, and particularly if they are ugly, he could find himself standing three paces in front of an army which has just taken six paces to the rear.

      Which is why he is also currently talking up "unity" - the need to change the Face of the Hexagon without alienating any sections of the population.

      Sarkozy really does not want a repeat of the 2005 autumn riots which provided such a spectacle for the rest of the world.

      So it is lucky for him that the usual season for demonstrations, strikes and civic unrest is the autumn, kicking off when the schools go back in September and lasting until a week or so before Christmas.

      This gives him a few months' grace because July and August are traditionally slow months in France.  It is "la belle saison" and everyone is on holiday.  Life is way too beautiful during "les grands vacances" for messing about with slogans and protests.  It is unlikely that there will be many political fireworks this summer.

      There will however be time for hatching plans and gathering forces for the autumn offensive.  Sarkozy has July and August to warn off the "soixante-huitards", broker a deal with the unions, cut some cards with leftist and centrist politicians, get himself some allies in Europe and gather some ammunition for those who refuse to roll over and purr.

      In the long term, what will all this mean for British people living in France?  Not a lot in terms of property.  Prices are unlikely to rise or fall drastically. 

      But for those increasing numbers of Brits planning to set up businesses in France, there could be some significant shifts.  Entrepreneurs could find themselves faced with simplified tax regimes for example. 

      Over the next five years it is likely to get easier, cheaper and less risky to hire staff in France; it is extremely likely that it will become easier to fire staff, and it is also possible that social security contributions (currently very high) will be lowered for new start-ups.

      But as to whether France will morph into something more resembling Blair's Britain than the sloppy, sleepy, impossible conundrum that we all know and love... there's no need to worry.

      It'll never happen.  Not when Sarkozy's attack on the 35-hour week doesn't touch the word "abolish" but rather confines itself to exempting overtime pay from tax and social security contributions.  
 

 

 

 

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