PARIS (Reuters) – “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” General Charles de Gaulle famously asked.
His distant successor as president of France, who will be elected on Sunday for five years, faces the same puzzle of how to reform a perennially rebellious nation to meet the economic challenges of the 21st century.
Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy set out with great energy in 2007 to shake things up but ran out of steam after loosening the 35-hour work week and raising the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 in the face of massive resistance.
His most recent move has been to reduce labour costs by cutting social insurance charges on payrolls and raising value-added tax on goods and services instead.
Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, hot favourite to sweep Sarkozy from office in Sunday’s decisive runoff, says he will reverse that switch and sounds disinclined to even try the structural economic reforms advocated by many economists and the European Union.