Nicolas Sarkozy, the departing French President, deserves praise for his active co-operation in the Western alliance; he was less effective in his attempts to reform the French economy.
In 2009, Mr. Sarkozy brought France back into the integrated military structure of NATO. Forty-three years earlier, Charles de Gaulle had decided that the French military should no longer accept supreme allied commanders from the United States. Although Mr. Sarkozy’s party, the Union pour un mouvement populaire, is the successor (by way of a bewildering number of name changes) of the Rassemblement du peuple français, the party founded by General de Gaulle in 1947, Mr. Sarkozy did not believe that the national identity of France required chronic acts of irritation directed at the U.S.
Under his leadership, the French personnel contribution to the Afghanistan mission rose to 16,000; half of all French overseas military spending went to that mission. And when it became clear early last year that Colonel Moammar Gadhafi was likely to order bombing raids against many of his fellow Libyans, Mr. Sarkozy was one of the chief initiators of a vigorous, armed, international response.
His comparative freedom from French nationalism may have cost Mr. Sarkozy his victory. His Gaullist, or post-Gaullist, centre-right party, is likely to have lost nationalist support to the far right, that is, to the Front National of Marine Le Pen. It is estimated that about a third of lepéniste voters on the first round chose the successful Socialist candidate, François Hollande, on the second round on Sunday – a category known to Frcnch pollsters as gaucho-lepénistes.
Mr. Sarkozy did not do enough to make French labour markets more flexible while he had the chance – before the global recession struck and the presidential election drew near. He did modify the 35-hour work week, and he raised the retirement age from 65 to 67.
But he did not relieve the grave problem of youth unemployment in France, recently 22.4 per cent – disproportionately affecting the children of immigrants. Excessive job security makes employers reluctant to hire and try out young people, for fear of being stuck with them indefinitely. Unfortunately, Mr. Sarkozy did not face up to this. His constructive foreign policy will be his legacy.