Nicolas Sarkozy, the 23rd and current President of France, won the presidency on 16 May 2007 with the support of Jacques Chirac, the previous French President.

Sarkozy’s famous motto “La rupture” promised a new president with new ideas on his way to Elysee Palace. Big ideas like tax cuts on overtime, affirmative action, and the creation of a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity seemed daring at that time. However, time proved that his tenure could not go smoothly and he faced various domestic, regional, and international challenges.

At the domestic level, he dealt with and is still dealing with an economic crisis, a high unemployment rate, and the decrease in people’s purchasing power, which is under the direct influence of the EU and global economic crisis. For coping with them, he suggested the retirement law in November 2010—the increase in the retirement age from 60 to 62 and a full pension age from 65 to 67—to reduce the government’s deficits, but this led to labor unions’ strong opposition and street demonstrations in France for several weeks.

Sarkozy’s failure in economic plans, among other reasons, resulted in the decrease in his popularity and his party in France, which led to the victory of the French Socialist party in the election of district councils and the defeat of Union Popular Movement party, the ruling party in France, in March 2011.

Another reason for the fall of his popularity, as well as that of his party, might be the recurrent government reshuffles taking place 11 times. A famous example is the case of Michèle Alliot-Marie, then France’s foreign minister, who was forced to resign when public opinion turned against her—she had offered Tunisia to help deal with the uprising there in January 2011, just days before President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted.[1]

The recent tragic terrorist attacks in Toulouse (March 19) and the shooting of the terrorist (March 22) also calls to mind the lack of social security and the existence of racism. These events led to the second high profile wave of arrests of suspected Islamists.

It seems Sarkozy has had a better performance at the regional level. France exercised special international power when he held the rotating EU Presidency from July through December 2008. And when the euro was seen to be in danger of decline due to the budget deficits and the high debts of countries such as Greece, Ireland, and Spain, Sarkozy along with Merkel tried to form a special fund for the euro members exposed to bankruptcy and to save the European currency.

However, the news that Standard & Poor’s downgraded France from AAA to AA+ on Jan. 13, 2012 over worries about high debt and low growth was a blow to Sarkozy.

However, one could say, Sarkozy seems trying to put on a heroic mask internationally. As Justin Vaïsse states, “He tries to capitalize on his image as an international crisis President”.[2] To restore France’s international influence and image, Sarkozy played a role in the cease-fire in the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 and on 5 January 2009, he called for a ceasefire plan for the Gaza Strip Conflict. “We in Europe want a ceasefire as quickly as possible,” he said.[3]

The presidency of France in the G20 in November 2011 can be seen as another success for Sarkozy in the international arena. Also while US was engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, France could play a more active role internationally. In March 2011, Sarkozy actively engaged France against the forces of Muammar Gaddafi, then the Libyan leader, and was amongst the first heads of state to demand Gaddafi and his government’s resignation. On 17 March 2011, at the French request, resolution 1973 was adopted by the Security Council of the United Nations authorizing the creation of a “no fly” zone over Libya.

His official announcement of the beginning of a military intervention in Libya, with France’s participation on 19 March 2011, was well received by the majority of the French political class and public opinion;, as Steven Erlanger mentions “France began the bombing, to general political applause at home, even from the Socialists.”[4]

Sarkozy also calls for Syria aid corridors. Dissatisfied with the current affairs in Syria, he agreed to step up efforts to help end violence in Syria during a video conference held with Barack Obama over the issues of Syria and Iran.[4] [5]

However, at a time when France’s two-round presidential election on April 22nd and May 6th is drawing near, Sarkozy is dealing with new challenges. Picking up a new motto, different from that of his 2007 campaign, “Sarkozy now campaigns on continuity rather than rupture and on a protective, “Strong France” as Justin Vaïsse says,[5][6] for it seems economic crisis, budgetary constraints and the general lack of trust leave no place for change and reserving the status quo seems to be the best option for politicians.

For this presidential election Nicolas Sarkozy and the moderate socialist François Hollande are considered as the main candidates. Both candidates, putting their best foot forward, even staged competing open-air rallies in Paris—something rather unusual in France—but the question that to what extent French politicians are competing to satisfy voters’ demands remains. Tom Nuttall mentions neither Sarkozy nor Hollande “spends much time discussing the size of the French public sector, the sustainability of the welfare state or the prospects for growth”.[6] [7] Also women issues remain silent. Asma Guénifi from a French feminist movement says “We were astonished that none of the presidential candidates are talking about violence towards women”.[7] [8]

As a blow to Sarkozy’s campaign, he was recently accused of using a video conference with Barack Obama to the benefit of his election campaign[8] [9] and accused of trying to sell nuclear reactors to Gaddafi until mid-2010 by Anne Lauvergeon, the former head of French nuclear group Areva last year, though government spokeswoman, Valerie Pecresse, a member of Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party, accused Lauvergeon of trying to “settle scores” since she had been fired.[9] [10]

In addition, the emphasis on the Sarkozy-Merkel relationship to save the euro has left a weak image of France with no independency in the French public opinion.

The latest polls suggest “Nicolas Sarkozy was declared the most unpopular president in French history”[10] [11] and even his statement that Britain’s economic situation is worse than France’s seems to no avail at the time that people are looking forward to seeing economic reforms in their own country.

People need to be reassured that reforms will no longer be postponed and that the country’s deficit and debt will be dealt with and French competitiveness in today’s global market will be restored.

If people favor Hollande, France will face a new foreign policy and a rather new agenda for dealing with the EU crisis. Sarkozy, in return, might enjoy Merkel and Obama’s international support—Hollande, against Merkel and Sarkozy’s austerity policies for the EU, will not win ’Merkel’s favor, and Obama prefers his known not-all-the-time ally (as Justin Vaïsse refers to the cases when Obama and Sarkozy did not meet eye to eye such as when “Sarkozy thought Obama’s steps to move towards full nuclear disarmament were naive. Last year, he supported Palestinian aspirations at the UN General Assembly and at UNESCO, with no coordination with Washington. In January, he abruptly announced that French soldiers would leave Afghanistan in 2013 rather than on the agreed 2014 date. And he dragged his feet on Obama’s revamped missile-defense scheme.”) to an unknown would-be ally like Hollande.[12]  President Obama even called France America’s strongest ally last year.[13] Nothing is certain at the moment; perhaps, unlike what polls show, the ‘silent majority’ will help Sarkozy be re-elected, and if that happens, he would be the first European leader in charge to survive an election during an era in which great EU countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece have fallen victim.


1- Ryan, Yasmine. “Algerian dissident silenced by France”. 20 Mar 2012.

2- Vaïsse,  Justin. “The 2012 French Presidential Elections: A Primer”. Brookings Institute. April 04, 2012.

3- “France’s Sarkozy calls for Gaza ceasefire”. Reuters. Jan 5, 2009.

4- Erlanger, Steven. “By His Own Reckoning, One Man Made Libya a French Cause”. April 1, 2011.

5- “Sarkozy calls for Syria aid corridors”. Apr 13, 2012.

6 op. cit.

6.7. Nuttall, Tom. “The moderator’s opening remarks”. Economist. Apr 3rd 2012.

7. 8.  “French politics silent on women”. Euronews. 5 Apr 2012.

8. 9.Chrisafis, Angelique. “Sarkozy ‘embarrassed France’ with Obama video conference TV stunt”. 15 April 2012.

9. 10.”France: Atomic Anne Tries to Nuke Sarkozy”. 11 Apr 2012.

10.11. Samuel, Henry. “Nicolas Sarkozy ‘least popular president in French history’: Poll”. Apr 16, 2012.

12. Vaïsse, Justin. “Would Hollande and Obama Get Along?”. April 13, 2012.

13. Gardiner, Nile. “Barack Obama calls France America’s strongest ally. The president gives Britain the boot again”. January 10th, 2011.