sarkozy’s master stroke

Posted on October 27, 2007


Perhaps the militant French unions have met their match in French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Last week’s 24-hour strike by France’s transport, gas and electricity unions might have seen a massive turnout and Sarkozy himself suffered the indignity of power cuts in his home. But public opinion seemed to be in agreement with the government’s stance of the need for pension reforms for certain public sector workers, rather than the traditional sympathy and solidarity with strikers.

While Sarkozy’s political capital has been dwindling since his election, he does have the weight of the public behind him in this instance. 55 per cent of the public told the French newspaper, Le Figaro, that the strikes were not justified. It helps that Sarkozy has been preparing the French on this, even from as early as during his campaign for the presidency, when he had made an issue of France needing changes to its pension system.

More than having momentum behind him is the master stroke of announcing his divorce from his glamorous ex-model wife, Cecilia, on the very day that the strike had been scheduled. In one fell swoop, he switched the conversation, and headlines, from the disruptions to everyday life, to his personal life.

The state of the presidential couple’s marriage has been much speculated upon in the past few weeks. When the end was finally made official, the French press was only too happy to morph into American-style, detail-hungry packs, with one French paper, Liberation, even screaming in an ENGLISH headline “Desperate Housewife”, to describe Cecilia’s situation. What a change from a society that discreetly hushed up former president Francois Mitterrand’s life-long affair and daughter born out of wedlock, until the man passed away.

As a testament to his political genius, the strike does not seem to have affected Sarkozy too much. Nor did it go on into the following days, as some union leaders had threatened. However, another round of strikes could be planned for November.

But Sarkozy seemed determine to bounce back quickly, leaving the matter behind him and drawing headlines for a new issue this week, by announcing France’s “green” plans and hobnobbing with recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Al Gore. Perhaps the tide really is turning in France, and the streets are not as powerful as they once were.