The World from Berlin A Shot over Sarkozy's Bow

Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party has won the second round of French parliamentary elections, but with a smaller majority than had been predicted. German commentators wonder just what message the electorate is giving its new president.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP has won an absolute majority in the National Assembly -- but missed out on the predicted landslide.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP has won an absolute majority in the National Assembly -- but missed out on the predicted landslide.

It was supposed to be a landslide. Prior to the the second round of French parliamentary elections, some had thought that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), could get as many as 470 of the National Assembly's 577 available seats.

With French voters going to the polls for the last time in an election season that saw Nicolas Sarkozy elected president in early May, it didn't turn out that way. Instead, the vote left UMP with fewer seats than the 359 it had in the outgoing parliament, while the Socialists increased their tally from 149 to 185 seats.

Nevertheless, the UMP can celebrate the fact that it is the first party since 1978 to be handed a majority two general elections in a row. And the results also hand Sarkozy a clear mandate for his reform package, including loosening labor laws, cutting taxes, and scrapping the 35-hour work week, which he hopes will boost the economy and reduce France's 8.3 percent unemployment.

Commentators writing in Germany's main newspapers Monday said that while victory was no surprise, the relative setback should be a wake-up call for Sarkozy.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Sarkozy's ability to project the impression of unity in the right-wing camp -- while the left-wing demonstrated disunity and power struggles -- has paid off.... The socialists offered voters too little in the way of actual content -- instead they opted to paint the picture of an enemy against whom (Socialist Party leader) Ségolène (Royal) was supposed to stand. But when Royal lost (the presidential elections), the left's energy disappeared to a large extent.

"Admittedly the defeat now is less dramatic than expected, but overall it was not possible to motivate the voters in the quartiers populaires -- in other words, the classic clientele of the left -- to turn out in great enough numbers for the parliamentary election. Now five years of Sarkozy are beginning. And no-one should wait for the majority government to make mistakes. The left will have to renew itself. Never was opposition as laborious as it is today."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"It's no surprise: The French have now given Nicolas Sarkozy, who they elected president six weeks ago, a majority in the National Assembly too. What is surprising, on the other hand, is the fact that the victory of the president's party, the UMP, lagged clearly behind the two-thirds majority which had been predicted. That is, no doubt, something of a disappointment for the newly elected president and his party, who now have fewer seats than in the old National Assembly. Nevertheless Sarkozy and its government can now begin their reforms on a solid parliamentary basis."

"With this election result, the French have to a certain extent warned the energetic new president against being too cocky and being tempted by the hubris of power. The interesting question now is how Sarkozy will interpret this signal: Will he continue his policy of opening up to the center and even to the left -- or will he become more reserved, because he was not rewarded on Sunday?"

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The first euphoria about the new era yielded to the realization that the upswing promised by Sarkozy will initially require some sacrifice. After the first round of the parliamentary elections the right had expected yet another landslide victory, but instead they received a setback in the second round.

"Sarkozy's announcement that he would significantly increase value added tax in order to reduce labor costs and create hiring incentives was certainly not the least important factor in dampening enthusiasm. Instead of the two-thirds majority which pollsters had predicted, the president will have to get along with less in the parliament -- although he knows he still has an absolute majority behind him. As expected, he will have a free hand with reforms. But the time when he used to be able to achieve his goals easily is past. The everyday life of government has caught up with Sarkozy, even before he has begun to govern."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The success of the UMP is relative. The right has lost seats compared with its past representation in the parliament. The result is very far away from the 'blue tsunami' which had been predicted after the UMP's success in the first round of voting. An explanation for the shift between the first and second round might be the substantial increase in value added tax which the Sarkozy camp had proposed -- thereby providing the left with a popular and mobilizing issue for the first time."

"President Sarkozy now has to show the strong leadership which candidate Sarkozy promised. Above all that means that he can not be scared of pushing through unpopular social reforms. Otherwise the French will soon lose respect -- for Sarkozy and for the institution of president."

-- David Gordon Smith, 4 p.m. CET


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