Saving Candidate Sarkozy: A Year of Disappointment and Broken Promises

Saving Candidate Sarkozy: A Year of Disappointment and Broken Promises

PARIS -- One year to the day after his election as president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy strikes an increasingly lonely figure on the French political scene. Having referred to himself as the "buying power president" to emphasize his goal of increasing disposable income, he has instead become the object of a nationwide case of buyer's remorse. His popularity has plummeted in opinion polls, and in the absence of any true political opposition (outside of an increasingly hostile press), he faces growing disenchantment within his own UMP majority. In a country where politics is a blood sport, and where the only thing worse than success is failure, his precarious position has already led some to wonder whether his presidency is past saving.

A good deal of the blame lies with the high expectations that Sarkozy generated as a candidate. A year ago, he campaigned under a reform platform that he described as a "rupture" with the paralysis of previous administrations. In the face of France's historic distrust and hostility to market liberalism, Sarkozy made the value of work his campaign's central focus. "Work more to earn more" became both his campaign's slogan, and his promise to liberate the country's economy from its suffocatingly arcane regulations. But so far, even where Sarkozy has successfully implemented his program, the results have been far less dramatic than expected. His tax-break for workers who put in overtime, for instance, has had relatively minor impact on earnings, while adding yet more red tape for employers. The final terms for rolling back retirement benefits for the so-called "special regimes" (heavy laborers who currently qualify for a full pension after fewer years of active contribution) have yet to be announced, but they are expected to result in largely symbolic cost reductions.

In fact, despite Sarkozy's energetic first year in office, very little seems to have actually changed for the average worker and consumer, other than the skyrocketing cost of gas and basic commodities. While Sarkozy is not responsible for either, the resulting disappointment has proven politically costly, and has been exacerbated by the fact that, so far, some of the biggest ruptures delivered by President Sarkozy have been with the promises made by Candidate Sarkozy. A promise to replace the country's numerous employment contracts with a simplified and unique one was abandoned. Others, including a professional reinsertion stipend that would have ensured that salary for an unemployed worker returning to work would be higher than the unemployment benefits it replaced, have been delayed or watered down.

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