[Viewpoint]Undaunted by opposition

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[Viewpoint]Undaunted by opposition

There are many wall posters criticizing French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the streets of Paris these days. They make cynical remarks about his attempts at reform. There are even some photographs of him blindfolded, as if he is a criminal.

His popularity has fallen, too. Compared to last year, when he moved fast and busily as the president of the European Union when the financial crisis broke out, his popularity has gone down nearly 10 percent.

The voices that don’t approve of his reforms have grown louder. The general strike and street rallies that took place at the beginning of February were the largest seen in recent years. That’s when President Sarkozy opted to give a televised address to the nation. He didn’t plead with the people to refrain from strike action, nor did he appeal to emotions. He simply laid out the justification for the reforms he wants.

Once the speech went on air, the number of complaints grew and few people responded positively to his TV appearance, especially since he was saying “We still need reforms” to a nation that remains hostile to the ideas that the French president has proposed.

Opinions differ as to whether or not Sarkozy’s reforms will drag France out of its current economic woes. However, nobody denies that the president is working hard to revive France’s competitiveness.

Sarkozy accepts that there will be complaints about the reforms he is proposing because his administration has been forced to try to bundle a lot of new policies together rather than proceed more slowly. And he knows he can’t wait decades to implement reforms he feels are urgently required.

Thus, instead of putting out the fires flaring up in front of him, he has chosen to promote national development on a grand scale, despite the difficulties.

One example of Sarkozy’s reforms is an attempt to introduce a means of evaluating university professors, an unprecedented move in France. Sarkozy says all professors should have their research accomplishments evaluated every four years. The assessment will decide not only who gets promoted but also the allocation of research budgets and lecture hours.

The academic community is up in arms, claiming that the proposed evaluation system will not be a fair means of assessing their work.

Sarkozy, though, is determined to shake up things, concerned that standards in tertiary education in France are deteriorating.

With this viewpoint firmly set in its mind, the Sarkozy government is willing to take on the universities`.

One French newspaper called Sarkozy’s position “a war against unpopularity.” People from all walks of life are complaining about the proposed reforms, but he continues, undaunted by the risk of risking unpopularity.

In truth, though, a dismal economic predicament is facing France. It recorded negative growth in the last quarter and the unemployment rate is rising. So people in dire financial straits are joining anti-government protests organized by those against government reform.

But Sarkozy is in effect in a Catch-22. Since the basic direction of the reforms is strengthening the national economy, the faster the reforms are implemented, the more difficult the situation will probably be for the country.

Last year, I interviewed Secretary of State for the Civil Service Andre Santini, the cabinet minister in charge of the reform, who said, “You cannot get anything done if you are afraid of falling approval rates during a period of reform. President Sarkozy feels the same way.”

He added, “The country may appear to be in disorder at first glance, but Sarkozy has a sense of duty and he follows the principles of national management.”

The question is, does Korea have a similar leader and principles as the French?

Take the recent Yongsan tragedy. It is a tragedy that several people died, and it is only natural to mourn for them. However, this incident occurred in the process of legitimate police action, and I am amazed that the commissioner general-designate of the National Police Agency has to resign under pressure from anti-government organizations in a constitutional state.

I also wonder whether some of the government’s reform policies have been quashed by fears that the opposition parties will be hostile. Would the commissioner general of the police have to resign if we had Sarkozy-style principles and a central figure like him?

Recently, Sarkozy said, “Reform is the duty people gave me.” I wonder what President Lee Myung-bak thinks about such a statement.

*The writer is the Paris correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Jeon Jin-bae

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