Patriotism and pride come first as Sarkozy takes power
President Nicolas Sarkozy took office promising to create a new France, rooted in pride in the values of an "old France" of hard work, discipline, patriotism and self-sacrifice.
After the traditional, rather stiff ceremony of inauguration yesterday at the Elysée Palace, and a ride up the Champs Elysées in an open-top car, President Sarkozy added a gut-wrenching speech paying tribute to young resistance martyrs of the Second World War.
He said his first act as president would be to order the final letter home of a condemned resistance hero to be read out to all French schoolchildren aged 15 to 18 each September. M. Sarkozy's message was plain. He plans to try to reform the French economy but he also plans to try to reform the French psyche, especially the psyche of the young. Self-doubt and self-flagellation is out. National pride is in.
During the campaign, M. Sarkozy had implicitly criticised the outgoing president, Jacques Chirac, for adopting what he called a "posture of repentance": apologising for dark periods in France's past, such as the role of the French state in the Holocaust.
By going to a resistance shrine in the Bois de Boulogne as one of his first acts as president, M. Sarkozy signalled that he plans to resurrect the very different post-war approach of his political hero, Charles de Gaulle. Like De Gaulle's France, Sarkozy's France will glorify acts of patriotism and achievement. It will not dwell on past failures, wickedness or betrayals.
"It is essential that we explain to our children what it means to be young and French," M. Sarkozy said. "Through the sacrifices of a handful of people in the past... (they must understand) what it means to give yourself up to a cause much greater than yourself."
As President Sarkozy spoke in the west of Paris, thousands of young people were marching though the streets of eastern Paris to demonstrate against what they see as the new president's authoritarianism and "ultra-capitalism". Earlier, M. Sarkozy, 52, had been formally invested as the sixth president of the Fifth Republic - the first to have no personal memory of the Second World War.
In a half-hour meeting, the outgoing president, Jacques Chirac, handed over nuclear missile codes and other, unspecified state secrets. Afterwards, M. Sarkozy accompanied M. Chirac to his car and waved with what seemed like genuine emotion as his estranged, former mentor drove away into retirement.
President Sarkozy then gave a purposeful speech, tearing into much of M. Chirac's 12-year legacy of muddle and drift. Difficult decisions had been delayed for so long that further delay would now be "fatal", he said.
As president, he recognised he had no right to fail and "no right to disappoint". He would "break with the behaviour" of past governments, of both right and left. His presidency would be dedicated to "rehabilitating the values of work, effort, merit and respect". It would also respond to the "desire" of the people for more "order and authority" but also "more tolerance and openness".
In foreign affairs, President Sarkozy said his twin objectives would be tackling climate change and promoting human rights. On the European Union, M. Sarkozy again gave a clear signal that his market-oriented policies stopped at Europe's external borders. He said he wanted "an EU which protects its citizens".
Despite continuing reports of a new rift in their marriage, M. Sarkozy's wife Cécilia attended the ceremony, looking happy and relaxed. The couple embraced briefly. Mme Sarkozy refused to respond to journalists' questions.
After the traditional drive up the Champs Elysées, President Sarkozy rekindled the flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe, He then made his second speech at a memorial to 35 young resistance heroes machine-gunned by the Nazis on the eve of the liberation of Paris in August 1944.
Afterwards, M. Sarkozy flew to Berlin for talks with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.By John Lichfield in Paris Published: 17 May 2007