A Long Time Since Freedom Fries

Posted: Jul 08, 2007 12:00 AM
A Long Time Since Freedom Fries

After hearing Nicolas Sarkozy, the recently elected French president, lauded for his courageous campaign theme, “The French will have to work harder,” I read his book “Testimony: France in the Twenty-first Century.” I am amazed that the French people elected him, and am looking forward to seeing how his administration progresses.

Nicolas Sarkozy is a conservative who campaigned against the conservative establishment (this takes real skill), By any standard political measurement, Sarkozy, 52, could have been expected to lose the presidential election to left-wing Socialist Party standard bearer Ségolène Royal. Yet, Sarkozy’s hard work and focus on optimism and hopes for a better France led him to victory on May 6.

Before his election, Sarkozy wrote “Testimony,” a book criticized by some as intended to provide voters with background information that would make the candidate more appealing.

Whatever the purpose of the book, it is an interesting read.

The first portion covers Sarkozy’s entry into politics, his early years and the formation of his belief system. He conveys an earnestness and idealism that is refreshing. Sarkozy’s idea that “politics has meaning only when its objective is to give hope to millions of people” reflects the belief of a man focused on people first but with an understanding of how politics works and the skills required to achieve his ambitious goals for France.

Referring to the fact that memos cannot replace meetings, he notes that “No file, however carefully prepared, can replace in-the-field experience.”

However, despite his idealism and optimism, Sarkozy appears to favor measurements and outcomes over feelings and hopes. He expands on this line of reasoning when he states that, no matter how a law or regulation might sound when passed, it’s the implementation that matters. He encourages lawmakers to visit the front lines to see if their intentions have translated into the results they were seeking.

“The main characteristic of our society is the absence of hope, whereas the very goal of politics is to provide hope,” Sarkozy writes, outlining the current bleak social and economic reality faced by the French. However, he also promised that their future can be brighter if the French can work together and invent a better future.

Sarkozy displays his eagerness to “invent the future” and his ability to look for solutions outside normal channels in his recounting of a story that occurred when he was finance minister. Given a memo stating that Alstom, a French company then in dire financial straits, was to be purchased by Siemens, (which would have resulted in 25,000 French jobs disappearing), Sarkozy insisted that “the young and brilliant drafter of the memo rewrite it, this time taking the time to imagine what he would have written if his own father had worked for Alstom.” After restrategizing and rethinking, negotiations led by Sarkozy saved the company and the jobs.

Describing an attitude common among entrepreneurs, Sarkozy tells his readers that “One of the reasons for our tendency to stand still is that we wait for the perfect solutions before starting to act. This is useless, because nothing as a result gets done. ….. trying, experimenting, taking the local pulse, reversing course if things aren’t working and moving forward if they’re working well.” While it might not be best to reverse course, but to instead move sideways and rework, the idea of forward movement is exactly right and what enables companies such as Google to continually innovate. The focus is on faster iterations and reinventions rather that waiting until the product is perfect.

Yet, what applies in the corporate world does not always translate into government. Administrations are often forced to decide upon issues rapidly – sometimes too rapidly. Some might say the recent performance of the Bush administration provides support for Sarkozy’s belief that “Being in the government is probably the worst place in the world to think.”

Sarkozy mentions that the French people must work harder to create a better future. He describes the damage done by the current 35 hour work week, which was instituted a few years ago by the Socialists. Instead of advocating getting rid of the time limit, Sarkozy ingeniously argues for making all overtime income tax free in order to incentivize more work so that “by working more we will create more jobs.” Sarkozy insists that “in this new France, work, effort, and merit will pay off.” These almost sound like traditional American thoughts, valuing a strong work ethic.

Amazing that the a country known for incredible bread, wine, cheese and a leisurely lunch has decided that more work for a better future is a good idea.

The book ends with: “To all of you, I say: anything is possible if we work together.”

While “Testimony” might not make me want to move to France, it does make me want to visit Paris and see the impact of the new administration.

Sarkozy’s strategy of trying to “convince the French and, by taking action, restore their hope” appears to have been successful so far. He has taken the first step of persuading his countrymen to elect him. It will be interesting to see if he now can energize the French people to work harder, take action, and regain their hope.

The world is watching, mes amis, we wish you well.