Thursday, May 31, 2007
La Méthode Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy's first real moment in the national spotlight occured in 1993 when a man calling himself "HB" (which was later discovered to stand for Human Bomb) took a roomful of kindergarten children hostage. Sarkozy, as mayor of the city where the drama took place, negotiated directly with the hostage-taker. Every time he entered the classroom to negotiate he would agree to one of the guy's minor requests in return for releasing a child or two that he took out with him upon leaving. All the while, he refused to meet the guy's principal demand, which was access to the news media.
Finally, after two days, the negotiations reached an impasse and HB refused to allow any more children to leave. At which point Sarkozy sent in the elite French commando unit known as RAID, who killed HB instantly and freed the rest of the children. As a couple of anecdotes from this past week demonstrate, his negotiating style hasn't changed much since then.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Sarkozy's two major policy declarations regarding Europe were, a) his support for a streamlined "mini-constitution", passed by parliamentary vote, to replace the unreadably obtuse one rejected by referendum two years ago; and b) his opposition to the entry of Turkey into the EU. Now if you look closely at the two positions, one thing becomes clear. The first, an institutional resuscitation of the EU, is urgently needed. The second, a decades-long process that will unfold in stages, can easily be scuttled at some more convenient time in the future.
So it should come as no surprise that Sarkozy, in meeting with EU President Manuel Luis Barroso last week and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero yesterday, was willing to withhold a French veto of a preliminary round of negotiations with Turkey in order to gather momentum for his mini-treaty.
Another example is his controversial campaign promise to require minimum service during any transportation strike. The unions have come out strongly against the measure, which would limit one of their most powerful weapons. Sarkozy has since backed off from passing a law immediately, stating that he would allow the unions and the employers' organization to negotiate the terms, with the relevant government ministers only stepping in if the two sides could not come to an agreement. Unilateral legislation would be reserved as the last option should negotiations fail.
Sarkozy is careful to never identify what he wants (mini-treaty, minimum service) without at the same time dangling the cost to his negotiating partner (Turkey veto, unilateral legislation) should he not get it. More importantly, he's perfectly willing to postpone confrontation, as long as he can leave the room with a child in his arms.