NPR's All Things Considered

Sarkozy's Election Reflects Europe's Right Turn

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: So France will soon have a right-of-center president. Germany - in the person of Angela Merkel - has had a right-of-center chancellor. And some would say that Tony Blair's left-of-center Labor Party is in some trouble in the United Kingdom. What's going on in Europe?

To address that question, we've invited Ivo Daalder, who is with the Brookings Institutions - currently in Italy.

Mr. IVO DAALDER (Senior Foreign Policy Fellow, Brookings Institution): Glad to be here.

SIEGEL: And Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who joins us from Brussels. Welcome back, Bob Kagan.

Mr. ROBERT KAGAN (Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Thank you.

SIEGEL: First, Robert Kagan, do you see any trend unifying any of the political developments in Europe nowadays? Is there some word that might describe what people are acting on?

Mr. KAGAN: Well, I think, it's - in France and Germany, I think, it would described as a common desire for what might be called economic restructuring, economic modernization. I think, the vote in France was, above all, about the French economy. And I think what you're seeing now is the return to what Europeans like to call the Franco-German motor within the E.U. You have two leaders in Germany and France who see economics and politics in roughly the same way. And I think, there's a lot of hope in Europe that this will allow Europe to get rolling again.

SIEGEL: And does that mean that the current leadership would regard some of the benefits of the traditional European welfare state as an encumbrance today to modernizing?

Mr. KAGAN: Well, both of them have the same ambitions and the same problems. Both leaders and what they represent in their countries would like to shed some aspects of that welfare system in the interest of greater economic success. They would like to change some labor laws. They'd like to make those laws more flexible. And I'm sure that now President Sarkozy will face, immediately, in France strenuous opposition to any such changes, but that is what they both had in mind.

SIEGEL: That's Robert Kagan. Hold on for a minute. Ivo Daalder, do you see a similar change in the commonality of change to what's happened in Germany and now in France, or elsewhere?

Mr. DAALDER: Well, there is a change, of course. Although in France, we're moving from a center-right candidate to a center-right candidate, but there was a desire, at least, to modernize economically. I agree with Bob on that point. It is well to remember, however, that when one talks about the right in Europe, you are talking about a very state interventionist political class that still believes that the government has a fundamental role in guiding how the economy is supposed to be run. And also a society that remains committed to the welfare state in ways that we, in the United States, would not recognize.

So if you have a shift and it's been really only a very small shift even in Germany, remember people have - before the election last year - were expecting the CDU, the - Angela Merkel's party of win outright. She didn't. In fact, she's now governing together with the left in a grand coalition.

So we will have to see in France whether the win that Sarkozy has, which in my view was more rejection of the alternative than necessarily support for him whether that will be translated into a massive strengthening of the right's parliamentary majority.

Listen to the full interview