[Viewpoint]French flyA French television station recently broadcast a children’s program asking kids what they wanted to be when they grow up.
I watched it to see if I could tell the differences between French and Korean children. Many children said they wanted to be athletes. The names of soccer heroes, such as Zinedine Yazid Zidane and Thierry Daniel Henry, were mentioned many times. Many of the children also wanted to be scientists or firefighters. However, the job of president, which comes up a lot when Korean children are asked, was not mentioned. At one point, the host even asked a child, “Don’t you want to be president?”
The child shook his head. “My father says the president is a very busy man,” he said.
I think his father probably thought of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has the nickname “omnipresent president.”
The French press recently jokingly said that President Sarkozy ran around so much that Palais de l’Elysees, the presidential residence, was “the hardest place in France to find the president.”
The “diligent president” Sarkozy is an issue maker.
On the day of his presidential inauguration six months ago, Sarkozy experimented with a new presidential style.
He flew to Germany that afternoon to demonstrate his belief that the relationship between France and Germany, the two core countries of Europe, should be improved to make France a stronger country.
Sarkozy met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He presented numerous ideas for a new Europe and even reached agreements on some of them with her. With a European Union summit meeting around the corner, he suggested a so-called mini constitution of Europe.
It was a meaningful gesture toward the political unification of Europe, which was uncertain following the voting down of the EU constitution. He even went to Warsaw to persuade Poland, which opposed the idea. In the end, the mini constitution was adopted and Sarkozy’s diplomatic ability started to attract international attention.
Last month in Morocco, Sarkozy displayed skills in business diplomacy that will go down as legendary in the history of French presidents. He sold the French high-speed train, TGV, to Morocco, and received orders for the construction of a nuclear power plant and French arms. In doing so, he demonstrated “the essence of sales diplomacy.”
France’s relationship with the United States also became a step smoother after Sarkozy became president. After the Iraq War, some Americans started to call “French fries” “freedom fries,” because France declined the United States’ request to participate in the war. However, lawmakers gave President Sarkozy a standing ovation about 20 times during his recent speech to Congress. This was partly out of gratitude to him because he has jogged wearing a t-shirt carrying the letters “NYPD” since the start of his presidential term, and has reached out his hand many times, saying, “The United States is our friend.” Sarkozy is a realist who knows the support of the United States is absolutely necessary to exercise international influence.
The changes in France will be felt even more. With the slogan, “Let’s work more and make more money,” a wave of working hour extensions are sweeping through French workplaces.
The phenomenon that the entire nation comes to a halt when there is a strike has disappeared. That is thanks to the introduction of a “minimum service system,” which operates subways and buses even when there is a strike. Sarkozy even slashed the number of officials, to cut inefficiency. He reduced the number of public servants and diverted the budget surplus back to the remaining public servants as an incentive.
Sarkozy has accomplished a variety of dramatic changes in just six months. Of course, it is too early to decide whether he has succeeded in accomplishing all of the changes. But it is clear the French people are feeling a new vitality watching the president run around the country. Six months since the day of his inauguration, more than 60 percent of people are saying, “Let’s trust Sarkozy.”
Korea will elect a new president one month from now. I hope we choose a president who truly runs around diligently for the Republic of Korea. Judging from what Sarkozy does for France, it seems that anyone who is president has too many things to do to waste time fighting the opposition party, the press and the wealthy.
*The writer is the Paris correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Jeon Jin-bae