Vive la France

I’ve spent the last two days watching the France 24 coverage of the new President of the French Republic who will succeed Jacques Chirac. Thank you CSPAN for simulcasting the French Channel’s coverage.

I just finished watching conservativeNicolas Sarkozy’s victory speech in front of a packed room of supporters at the UMP headquarters in Paris. He’s been a very controversial figure in the last few years in his role of Minster of the Interior. It will be interesting to see how his presidency unfolds.

In his speech he said several interesting things, most notably for the US that he planned to work together to improve the deteriorated state of Franco-American relations. Although in reality, he may have to wait until a more globally minded US President is elected in 2008.

He also said that one of his greatest missions in his presidency would concern global warming and he said the US should be the leader of such a movement, but in it’s absence, France would take a much greater role. I was happy to hear that.

In short Sarkozy wants a friendly relationship with the US, but France will also be one of it’s toughest critics. I’m happy with both of those things.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching the rebroadcast of Wednesday evening’s final presidential debate between Sarkozy and the more liberal Ségolène Royal. The format was quite different that the typical US presidential debate in that along with the two commentators, Sorkozy and Royal sat across from each other and more or less addressed each other rather than the commentators or the cameras. A dual timer displayed how much speaking time each candidates had so one would not get more time than the other.

The debate lasted more than two hours and it seemed far more constructive than the US debates have become. It was a dialog, which is something that I think is lacking in American politics.

The socialist Royal concentrated on the disenfranchised, stressing education, diversity, and support of the poor, at times lashing out at Sarkozy for his record of cutting education programs. I really agreed with much of her platform.

Americans, and only those paying attention to world events, really only became aware of Sarkozy, fairly recently during the Paris riots last summer. Sarkozy fanned the flames of discontent among the minorities living in the poorer suburbs when he called them “riff raff.” Days later, France was in a state of emergency as thousands of cars were burned for several nights in a row.

Sarkozy’s plan to raise the standard of living in France would change the standard 35 hour work week to allow for overtime pay should workers wish to increase their take home pay. Companies would receive tax breaks on the overtime pay to encourage compensation for overtime, rather than hiring more employees.

The 35 hours work week is considered sacred by the French, but Sarkozy knows that in order to compete more successfully in the world market, France will have to find ways to increase productivity without losing the essence of what it means to live a French lifestyle.

Oh and yes, if I’m going to ever live in France, Sorkozy would prefer that I arrive being able to speak the language. Not a problem.

And by the way there was an 86% voter turnout this Sunday. Perhaps yet another reason why the US should get off of the Tuesday election day morass.

As a side note, I’m going to keep news of my mom’s health off the blog. It’s become a little too personal to me to be airing in public. But I appreciate all the thoughts and well wishes.

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