Sarkozy seeks a more business-friendly France

French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy plans to waste no time making France a friendlier place for business — and a less friendly place for unions and would-be immigrants — but first he must win control of parliament in new elections next month.

Sarkozy, a U.S.-friendly conservative and an immigrant’s son, defeated Socialist Segolene Royal by 53 percent to 47 percent with about 85 percent voter turnout May 6.

The president-elect will now claim a mandate to reshape France: He wants to free up labor markets, promises a “rupture” with the welfare state, calls the country’s 35-hour work week “absurd” and plans tougher measures on crime and immigration. He has made it clear that he intends to curtail the right to strike, particularly for railway and other transportation workers.

Doug Ireland, a U.S. journalist and blogger who closely followed the election, characterizes Sarkozy as “autocratic, demagogic” and a “hard-right nationalist” who is preparing to integrate elements of the extreme, neo-fascist right into his party, the UMP, and his new administration.

Ireland said, “Sarkozy is a skilled demagogue who, on the stump, tried to give the impression (like Bush’s first presidential campaign did) that he was a ‘compassionate conservative.’ But Sarkozy’s so-called compassion is strictly rhetorical — his concrete economic orientation is bound to deepen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

“Sarkozy’s campaign was marked by incessant appeals to racism and fear of immigrants, symbolized by his adoption of a slogan used by the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen, ‘France, love it or leave it,’” he continued. “But in reality, what Sarkozy’s victory means for France is something closer to the so-called Reagan Revolution in the U.S. that began, in 1981, the process of dismantling and destroying the institutional New Deal legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

The Bush administration immediately welcomed Sarkozy’s election as an opportunity to strengthen relations with France.

“We certainly look forward to cooperation with the French,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said May 7. “And we know that there are going to be areas of disagreement. But on the other hand, there are certainly real opportunities to work together on a broad range of issues.”

Exit polls offered some surprises. Some 46 percent of blue-collar workers — traditionally leftist voters — chose Sarkozy, according to an Ipsos/Dell poll. Forty-four percent of people of modest means voted for him, as did 32 percent of people who usually vote for the Greens and 14 percent who normally support the far-left. The poll surveyed 3,609 voters and has a margin of error of about 2 percent.

Sarkozy is certain to face resistance from powerful unions to his plans to make the French work more, reduce taxes on the very rich and big corporations, make it easier for companies to hire and fire, and make cuts in the country’s national health care system, described by the World Health Organization as one of the best in the world.

The new president, 52, plans to take over power from outgoing 74-year-old leader Jacques Chirac on May 16.

Legislative elections are slated for June 10 and 17, and Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party needs a majority to keep his mandate for reforms. A win by the left would bring an awkward power-sharing with a leftist prime minister, which would put a stop to his plans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.