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French revolution?

With a solid 53 percent of the vote, Nicolas Sarkozy defeated Socialist Segolene Royal for the presidency of France on Sunday.

Mr. Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian refugee, launched tough anti-crime tactics during his tenure as interior minister, labeling young delinquents “scum.”

The French-born children of primarily Arab and African immigrants who occupy France’s urban housing projects responded with three weeks of rioting in 2005. By comparison, violence wasn’t as bad as police expected on the night of Mr. Sarkozy’s election. Small bands of youths hurled stones and other objects at police at the Place de la Bastille; some youths bared their backsides at riot officers; and firebombs targeted schools and recreation centers in the Essonne region just south of Paris. But only 367 parked vehicles were torched.

(“On a typical night in France, about 100 cars are burned,” reports The Associated Press.)

Mr. Sarkozy vows to seek freer markets and to crack down on crime — which sounds like a no-brainer. He would make overtime pay tax-free to encourage people to work more, as he seeks to roll back the government mandated 35-hour work week that he has long called “absurd.”

The Socialist Ms. Royal — an unwed mother of four — had vowed to protect all that, along with the rest of the welfare-state claptrap that’s been rapidly turning la belle France into an economic basket case.

Mr. Sarkozy is seen as being relatively pro-American — he reached out to the United States in his acceptance speech, declaring that America can “count on our friendship,” while adding that “friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions.”

That’s all very nice. What’s more important, though, are strong European trading partners, actively engaged in defending freedom, offering freer and thus more attractive alternatives to benighted Islamic tyranny.

“Like Thatcher in Britain, like Reagan in the United States, Sarkozy will change things,” predicted supporter Thierry Gauvert, 55.

The comparison helps capture the size of the challenge. For while Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan here were towering figures, powerful voices for a renewed turning to freedom and entrepreneurship, still bureaucratic intransigence meant neither was able to do much more than slow the growth of the runaway welfare state, in the short run.

The power of the French presidency is limited. Mr. Sarkozy is certain to face resistance from powerful unions if he proceeds with plans to make the French work more hours, while also restoring the right of French companies to hire and fire at will.

Also controversial — which only goes to show how far into silliness France has sunk after 12 years of Jacques Chirac — are his plans to impose tougher sentences on repeat offenders and to toughen the criteria for immigrants trying to bring their families to France.

Legislative elections approach in June; only if Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative Union for a Popular Movement also does well there will he stand much chance of actually advancing his agenda.

On the bright side, Mr. Sarkozy’s mandate appears broad. Exit polls show some 46 percent of blue-collar workers — traditionally leftist voters — chose Mr. Sarkozy. Thirty-two percent of people who usually vote for the Greens supported him, as did 14 percent who normally support the far left — and even 43 percent of voters in the largely immigrant Seine-Saint-Denis region north of Paris, epicenter of the 2005 riots.

Collectivism — discouraging initiative by looting those who achieve in order to subsidize those who lay about — doesn’t work. Its strongest opponents have always come from peoples who have lived through it. Here’s hoping the people of France have seen the light in time.

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