When I hear a former President of the French Republic dare say, and have his lieutenants explain away, that only a major economic crisis made it impossible for him to achieve the reforms he was planning, I cannot help but to be very angry.
First, because the rare reform measures he has led were undertaken precisely because he was forced, by the crisis, to act, in a wholly inadequate way, on pensions; and manage, with a high degree of efficiency, the rescue of the European banking system.
Next, because many other countries, in Europe and elsewhere, had the courage to reform during a crisis. With visible success when they did so in previous recessions, like Sweden or Germany; with success ahead, when they did so in the current crisis, like Spain, Portugal or the United Kingdom.
Finally, because experience has shown that when there is no crisis, there are even less reform proposals made, since we have the feeling that all is well: from this point of view, the case of the Jospin government in France is exemplary.
So if reforms are made neither when things are going well, nor during the crisis, when do we reform?!!
The current President, the former President, and the entire political class must learn to recognize what every Frenchman well knows: Not to act when one faces a crisis, is to condemn oneself. They need to learn the foundations of business and personal emotions management, anticipate crises and use them to serve as a driver of modernity.
In particular, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose political comeback is welcome, must have the courage to admit that he was wrong, during his five-year term, to use the global financial crisis as a pretext to justify his inaction; that he should, instead, have built on this tectonic quake in order to fight against rents, reduce inequities, suppress departments, reform primary school, liberalise regulated professions, make budget savings, improve competitiveness, support the work-free Sunday, reform life-long learning, call into question the precautionary principle and the special pension schemes. He must also recognize that he left to his successor a very difficult situation, in which reforming was even more urgent; finally, he must understand that the successor of his successor, that he aspires to be, will also face the same crisis, and that he will not be able to use the excuse for not taking action.
Or, if he continues to say that nothing can be done in challenging times, it means that he admits himself of not having been transformed by the personal crisis he went through and that after his return to power, he will repeat the same mistakes he made during his first term.
The French know that the crisis is the alibi of the weak and the energy of the strong. They will no longer trust someone who would lack humility, compassion, lucidity, courage and vision: humility to acknowledge one’s errors; lucidity to understand that the world has changed, with other issues at stake along with new values; compassion for the weakest and the socially excluded; courage to take hard and fast action; and forward-looking vision for a great country, that would have all the means to remain so if those who were in command only thought about its greatness.