By Pape, Eric
Byline: Eric Pape
As Nicolas Sarkozy took in the political landscape on Bastille Day, he could be forgiven for his giddiness. The new president's approval ratings were in the stratosphere--nearing 70 percent in some polls--thanks in no small part to the new-look government he'd put together, one with an ethnic, racial and gender makeup far more reflective of modern France than any before (consider Rachida Dati, a daughter of North African immigrants, whom he appointed as minister of Justice). Less visible but particularly potent is Sarkozy's political diversity campaign, dubbed ouverture (or openness), that has seen him lure a growing array of prominent Socialists, centrists and other leftist activists to work in or for his conservative government. Admiring the varied team that he assembled at the Elysee Palace on July 14, the president gushed, "I am blown away by so many beautiful symbols."
The ones really blown away, however, have been the Socialist opposition, which is reeling. Sarkozy cannily managed to thin the left's uppermost ranks. First, he named a half dozen active or former Socialists to his government--including one of the most popular, Bernard Kouchner, as minister of Foreign Affairs. He then persuaded Hubert Vedrine, who was the last Socialist to oversee foreign policy, and Jacques Attali, who was a top aide to President Francois Mitterrand, to draft reports on globalization and development-assistance reform. Dominique Strauss-Kahn--the left's economic heavyweight--is now the odds-on favorite to become the next head of the International Monetary Fund, in large part thanks to Sarkozy (making Strauss-Kahn conveniently unlikely to steady the reins at Socialist headquarters). And on June 18, former minister of Culture Jack Lang, who once called Sarkozy a "Bush for France," joined the president's special advisory commission on institutional and constitutional reform. Parliamentarian Alain Vidalies, who is a member of the Socialist national council that Lang recently resigned from, told NEWSWEEK that it is all part of Sarkozy's "cynical and purely tactical political operation."
He's largely right--and the plan is working brilliantly. Ouverture has let Sarkozy brand himself as meritocratic and politically open-minded, yet he has made no public promises that these hires would change the government's vision in any way. Instead, the president has grabbed Socialists, centrists or others whose positions largely echo his own (Sarkozy has deftly reserved ministries that are overseeing his most controversial reforms--Immigration, Justice, Finance, Health and Labor--for faithful allies). "Ouverture isn't a political coalition," clarifies Yves Jego, a conservative parliamentarian close to Sarkozy. "The road map hasn't changed. Those people have boarded the train, but it's still going to the same place."
Still, reforms in France will require plenty of political capital and popular support to succeed. As the right knows from experience, public unrest can scotch the best-laid plans--even absent a vibrant Socialist opposition. Despite Sarkozy's popularity, 51 percent of the French say they might join a strike of their professional sector if they feel the reforms are misguided. …