If, like me, you haven't simply written Sarkozy off as the bling-bling president who lucked into the job and who hasn't a clue now that his luck has turned, you may be asking, What next? To be sure, things aren't looking at all good. The economy's response to the exhortation to travailler plus has been nil (see previous post). The global economic climate could hardly be more morose. Retirement reform has hit a major stumbling block now that the CFDT has withdrawn its support and called for a pause. University reform has angered many while having no visible impact on the quality of education. The party stumbled in the municipals and is now fractious and restive, as the fight over GMOs has made clear. The effect of l'ouverture has worn off. The reconciliation with the United States has yielded a major new obligation (in Afghanistan) without tangible improvement in French influence, stature, or diplomatic reach.* The Mediterranean Union has relapsed into the Barcelona Process. Renewed inflation is eating away at purchasing power and preventing the ECB from cutting interest rates, so the euro remains high and threatens to creep even higher, hindering exports. Ce que j'ai dit, je le ferai, you often repeated, but now you're saying that the Revenu de Solidarité Active will have to be scaled back: the coffers are empty. So what do you do now? Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American life, but what about French life? Sarko is in desperate need of a second act, and the effort of his plume and dramaturge Henri Guaino to give him one in the form of a "politics of civilization" seems to have fizzled like a wet squib. So what next?
Well, there is the impending presidency of the European Council, but it would probably be a mistake to build expectations too high. The EU operates by consensus, moves like a snail, and resents manhandling by the French. You can try to reinvent yourself and adopt a new presidential style, but le style, c'est l'homme même (Buffon), and reserved hauteur is not this president's cup of tea. You have to fear chiraquisation, having seen it up close: the inexorable erosion of authority, the lean and hungry lieutenants, the grumbling party (la droite la plus bête du monde is not so dumb that it can't abandon a ship that lies dead in the water, sauve qui peut). You yourself said you had only a year to turn the ship around, and now you're coming up on the eleventh month with no booty, no rudder, and treacherous reefs looming just ahead.
* Judah Grunstein disagrees. Judah's probably right.