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Battered by voters, Sarkozy is set to become another French leader to retreat from reform

Sarkozy Gold His Presidency began with such energy but battered in the first round of Sunday's regional elections there are now fears that reforms - already left too late in the presidential electoral cycle - will grind to a halt. The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Curtin examines the dangers:

"Even before the financial crisis, reform was piecemeal; the government tinkered with the tax system and gave universities greater autonomy, neither of which could stem rising public-sector debt. Since the financial crisis struck in 2007, reform has slowed further, with the government unwilling to risk recovery by cutting public spending. The main reform currently in the works is a plan to increase the minimum retirement age from 60 by a yet-to-be determined number of years. Mr. Sarkozy also floated the idea of a social value-added tax designed to shift the burden of financing welfare payments from companies to consumers and imports. The risk is that even these may now be sacrificed as part of Mr. Sarkozy's backpedalling on reform."

Strong showings by Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in the regional elections - 11.7% overall and nearly 20% in two regions - call into question Sarkozy's high profile debate on national identity. It was meant to squash the NF but it only served to raise the salience of their issues.

Sarkozy faces re-election in 2012. Rumours about his marriage to Carla Bruni now dog him at every turn. More significantly the socialists have a new spring in their step. They will hope to consolidate their gains next Sunday, in the second round of voting. Projections suggest socialist-green ccoalitions will win 20 of 22 contests. But it's always easier to be an opposition than a government-in-waiting. As The Economist noted, the socialists' "pitch to the electorate has not been clear". It concluded: "Voters may have been expressing their disillusion with Mr Sarkozy as much as any faith that the Socialists could do better."


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