The New York Times maintained its strange hostility toward center-right French president (and former Bush ally) Nicolas Sarkozy in Steven Erlanger Tuesday’s story from Paris, “Sarkozy Seen as Baiting Socialists With Budget Role.”
Erlanger implied that Sarkozy’s standard political appeals for deficits and balanced budgets (i.e. “the right’s obsession”) were somehow unfair to the opposition Socialist Party. Taking sides, Erlanger lamented the Socialists may be right on the merits but that Sarkozy’s simplistic approach could well prevail: “They have some sensible arguments, but as often in politics, a simple idea often trumps a complicated one. The Socialists recognize the need for fiscal discipline."
President Nicolas Sarkozy has used the crisis over the euro and his relationship with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to set a potential political trap for the Socialist opposition less than nine months before the French presidential election.
Hoping to show the French that he is a man of stature and responsibility, Mr. Sarkozy is pressing for a constitutional amendment to promote a balanced budget and making it a litmus test of fiscal responsibility for the Socialists, who oppose it.
Mr. Sarkozy has previously floated an idea he calls “the golden rule,” a legal requirement for a balanced budget, and a weak version has passed both houses of Parliament, where his center-right party has a majority. The Socialists voted against it, calling it a political maneuver and a “communications operation.”
But Mr. Sarkozy also seems to have a domestic intent -- to portray the Socialists as fiscally irresponsible and spendthrift. He has also, with much fanfare, ordered his government to come up with new spending cuts and alterations in the tax code to ensure, even in a period of flat growth, that he meets his stated target of reducing national debt to 5.7 percent of gross domestic product this year and 4.6 percent next year, election year.
In the meantime, Mr. Sarkozy has returned to the Mediterranean vacation home of his pregnant wife, leaving the Socialists, gearing up for their own primary fight in October, having to explain why a debt limit and balanced budgets are a bad idea. They have some sensible arguments, but as often in politics, a simple idea often trumps a complicated one.
The Socialists recognize the need for fiscal discipline, but for now their own plans are either complicated or vague, and emphasize new programs more than cuts.
Erlanger quoted some scathing critics of Sarkozy’s plan and party:
Another prominent Socialist, Arnaud Montebourg, said bluntly, “The deficit is the bastard child of the right, a mixture of ideological choices and payoffs for its electoral clients” -- big business and the rich.
Others, like Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Left Party, have assailed the right’s obsession with deficits and balanced budgets during an economic crisis as “dangerous and criminal.”
Mr. Sarkozy has said French voters will be the judge of that in the next election.