Who would have thought it possible? Especially after the Jacques Chirac years when American-French relations were at an all time low.
On May 16 the transition from Chirac to Sarkozy will be complete and the new President will assume his duties. Oddly enough, Chirac and Sarkozy are from the same political party — the Union for a Popular Movement — but the similarities stop right about there. Chirac is 74 years old while Sarkozy is 52. He was born well after the Second World War and came of age as the internet was developing and Ronald Reagan was America’s President. He knows nothing first hand of the World War II years and has a different set of ideas than those of the Chirac generation.
For the United States today the news of a pro-American French President is welcome indeed. “The people of France have chosen change,” Sarkozy said. The alternative would not have been Chirac, who after twelve years in office, did not run again, but the Socialist Segolene Royal, who conceded defeat within minutes of the polls closing. Sarkozy’s triumph reflects not entirely just his own political talents but as well the rift amongst French socialists, between the hard-liners, who want to stick to the party’s traditions and the centrists who are trying to follow the lead of other European socialist parties and become less extreme.
This is the third straight defeat for the Socialists in the French Presidential elections. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist former finance minister, commented:
"The left has never been so weak, because the French left has still not renewed itself.”
The left’s loss however is the right’s gain. However the victory was achieved for Sarkozy, it must be seen as a great new day for French-American relations.
President Bush made the congratulatory call, but in this case there was more than a ring of truth in it because America desperately needs friends in Europe, especially as the threats and actual acts of terror increase across the face of the world, and as the struggle for a safer environment takes on new urgency. I can guarantee you, Bush was a lot happier calling Monsieur Sarkozy than Madame Royal.
However, France more than likely will still be its independent self. Sarkozy said the United States can "count on our friendship," but he added that "friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions."
Hopefully, he will remember that when and if America does have a different view on a matter of interest to France.
Immediately, he urged the United States to take the lead on climate change, saying the issue would be a priority for France.
"A great nation, like the United States, has a duty not to block the battle against global warming but — on the contrary — to take the lead in this battle, because the fate of the whole of humanity is at stake," Sarkozy said.
Well, climate control is unlikely to be at the top of the Bush Administration’s agenda, but a solid democratic and civilized Europe is a high priority, especially in a time when there is a very large and growing fanatical Muslim movement to destroy all things and all people Western. It is not that the Administration is blind to the changes in the environment, but they are quite sensitive to the perils of well-meaning legislation which often over-reacts or so narrowly defines issues as to make the cure worse than the initial poison.
In any event, France, like the United States and Great Britain before them now has elected a new leader from a younger generation.
“Like Thatcher in Britain, like Reagan in the United States, Sarkozy will change things," an election observer commented.
He will need to. He inherits a national mess. The French appear almost paralyzed by worries over globalization, upset by the increasing Arab immigration and angry at American dominance. There continue to be major work issues; basically, like the fact that life seems to be one long vacation in France. Sarkozy hopes to change all that, but he will have to deal with powerful unions who are not inclined to speed up the hiring and firing of workers or to cut back on their paid vacations.
Most important though is simply that France now has a young guy at the helm with a lot of vim and vigor who thinks well of the Unites States. Inevitably, we may not always agree on some major issues, but the truth is there is now only one major issue that really matters in our times and that is the issue of our basic survival in an increasingly hostile world.
A young forward thinking French President is exactly what Europe and certainly the United States need right now. It has got to be better than the last decade for sure. Yes, it is time to stop the French jokes and instead break out the Bordeaux.