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French President-Elect Sarkozy Calls for Economic Reforms


Nicholas Sarkozy will become the new president of France on Wednesday (May 16th). The conservative politician is calling for tax cuts, free-market reforms and stronger ties to the United States. How will these proposed changes affect France and its allies? VOA's Deborah Block reports.

Nicholas Sarkozy is a politician of contrasts. He is a conservative on law and order who is known for being tough on crime. He believes France should have a more liberal economy based on the American and British models. Some people in France welcome his ideas, while others accuse him of being authoritarian and ready to trade civil liberties for political gains.

Robert Lieber is a professor of international studies at Georgetown University in Washington. "He was elected on the basis that he would bring change to France,” he says. “I think there is some likelihood that he can be successful."

Sarkozy held several ministerial posts and was interior minister and finance minister under his predecessor, President Jacques Chirac.

Sarkozy says he wants to jump-start France's lagging economy by deregulating the labor market and creating more jobs. But that would weaken French labor protections. He also wants to slash income taxes, overhaul the pension plan and reform the university system.

Like Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy says he would have kept France out of the Iraq war. But he says he hopes to improve French-U.S. relations. He said in his victory speech that the U.S. could count on France's friendship. President George W. Bush says despite their differences, he is looking forward to working with Sarkozy.

Lieber thinks that, with Sarkozy in power, the U.S. and the wealthiest countries in Europe will all work better together. "And I think what the U.S. will find is that it has partners in Britain, France and Germany who will make their views known when they don't agree with the United States, but always do so in a way that says, 'Look, at heart we're alliance partners, our values and interests and beliefs in security mean we have far more in common’.”

Sarkozy is the son of a Hungarian immigrant father and a French mother. He says he wants to reform the immigration system with quotas to admit more skilled workers. And while he has worked to ease tense relations with Muslims in France, but he also wants a crackdown on violence in Muslim communities.

"So a very interesting challenge for Sarkozy will be to deal with the immigrant community to try to avoid an excessive degree of alienation, while carrying out plans to better integrate them in the life of French society and also to enforce French immigration laws," explains professor Lieber

Crucial to implementing Sarkozy's reforms are next month's legislative elections. His right-wing UMP [Union for a Popular Movement] party has a large majority in both houses of parliament. But that party must keep it that way if Sarkozy is to follow through on his ambitious reforms.

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