John Fund on France's Election

Conservative Nikolas Sarkozy's comfortable victory over Socialist Ségolène Royal in France's presidential race may indicate that Europe's slowest-growing major economy is finally ready for some change.

Long derided as a "center of social rest" for its cradle-to-grave welfare state, mandatory 35-hour work week, public-sector strikes and ossified employment rules, France has voted for a new president who claims he wants to shake things up. "France does not fear change," Mr. Sarkozy told his supporters as the vote progressed yesterday, "France hopes for it."

That's unclear. It's certainly true that Mr. Sarkozy styled himself as a reformer who wants to arrest the pessimism gripping a country where polls show 70% of voters think their country is in decline. He advocated tax cuts, allowing overtime, and shrinking the central government's bloated bureaucracy by filling only half of the slots opened up by retirement. "The best social model is one that gives work to everyone," he would tell audiences in calling for more dynamism in the economy. "That is no longer ours."

But at the same time the former interior and finance minister has shown a willingness to bail out failing French companies and to embrace greater protectionism. Mr. Sarkozy is certainly no heir to Margaret Thatcher or even Tony Blair, but he is someone that free-market advocates can at least do business with. . . .



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