A few decades back, when we were young, Joni Mitchell sang of “sitting in a park in Paris, France” but dreaming of California because “I wouldn’t want to stay here; it’s too old and cold and settled in its ways here.”
Through the big sleep of the Mitterrand and Chirac years, Joni could have come back and written the same lines. France changed, because everything and everyone does, but a remote, monarchical president continued to preside over a country more alarmed than charmed by modernity.
Roger Cohen makes a good argument that France is racing back, though certainly not the way we all thought/feared 18 months ago. All our friends saw Reagan era-like restructurings and firings as an immediate effect of a Sarkozy win, but even most leftists felt that a dose of tough love was necessary to bring the young and the unionists to their senses. Funny how the soixante-huit-ards were the ones to come to the realizations that too long a summer of love would leave a long hangover.
Perhaps the biggest change is France’s new international policy with greater outreach to Israel and especially to the US.
And domestically, where his popularity as been as low as the mid-30s (Bush levels!),
Sarkozy has circumvented the 35-hour week by slashing taxes on overtime, freed up universities, downsized the state functionary community (and mentality), spurred small businesses, cut public spending and set in motion a radical reform aimed at creating a 21st-century army.
Francophiles may yet see France resurgent, though holding hands, for the first time in a long time, with the United States.