Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Bordeaux resists Sarkozy's charms

Emma-Jane Kirby with Bordeaux residents
Bordeaux residents are cautious about Sarkozy reforms

Between the two rounds of the French local elections, BBC correspondent Emma Jane Kirby is travelling around France, testing the temperature of voters.

In Bordeaux centre-right mayor Alain Juppe was re-elected in the first ballot. But will this conservative city ever accept President Sarkozy's programme of reforms?

Bordeaux is a city that drips with 18th-Century elegance and splendour.

A major wine centre, it is also a Unesco world heritage site, its Gothic cathedrals and perfectly manicured streets of mansions forever protected from the infiltration of modern high-rise blocks or urban sprawl.

Not surprisingly perhaps this is a rather conservative town and although the residents were happy to vote for Alain Juppe again in Sunday's elections - after all, he was largely responsible for cleaning up the place - many are not big fans of fellow UMP party member Nicolas Sarkozy.

French way of life

Or at least, they are not big fans of his plans to force France into becoming a more dynamic and competitive country.

Is that what you want us to become - just rich men boasting they're richer than the next man? Pah!
Bordeaux resident
At the marketplace, a group of middle-aged men are kindly polishing off the couple of bottles the stall holder could not sell.

Laurent and Filou, slightly the worse for wear, introduce themselves and immediately start complaining about economic liberalism and that "damned Anglo-Saxon model" which they think the government wants to impose on France.

"I like the French way of life, it's pure light, " says Laurent. "In France we have poetry and philosophy which you English couldn't even begin to appreciate."

I suggest to him however that the French are complaining rather a lot at the moment that they do not have enough spending power and that interesting though it is, philosophy does not bring money.

Laurent reacts angrily: "I don't want to get rich quick - these aren't my values. Is that what you want us to become - just rich men boasting they're richer than the next man? Pah!"

It's not Sarkozy's fault that he can't push through reforms. It's the mentality of the French people
Catherine Ruppe
Local businesswoman

It is true that President Sarkozy, or the King of Bling as he has been termed here, talks a lot about making people richer - and such talk certainly helped to get him elected.

But the French are extremely sensitive to, and very suspicious of, ostentatious displays of wealth.

Nicolas Rouchon, a student and a member of the anti-globalisation group Attac, says many of his friends share the same fear that constantly encouraging the French to work more to earn more will chip away at the core values of French society.

"I fear Sarkozy's reforms," he told me "because he wants to kill off the state sector and push everyone into the private sector. He's undermining our sense of solidarity and everything that was fought for in 1968. He doesn't understand that not everything can be about money."

But to small business owners like Catherine Ruppe, who runs a dog grooming parlour in Bordeaux, money is very important.

As she expertly trims a struggling terrier called Onyx, she tells me she has had enough of French conservatism - which she feels has muzzled the president's plans to loosen French labour laws.

Bordeaux business woman with dog
Catherine Ruppe has had enough of French conservatism

"It's not Sarkozy's fault that he can't push through reforms," she says, stripping fur from Onyx's back legs. "It's the mentality of the French people."

"When you're self employed and own your own business it's so hard to expand and take on more staff because it costs so much."

"Sarkozy's right to want to liberalise the economy but he's actually got to get on and do it now."

Naturally conservative

Can Mr Sarkozy just get on with it?

If his UMP party suffers more losses in the second round of these elections, his government's standing will be undermined and his power to push through reforms will be weakened.

But his biggest obstacle remains convincing the naturally conservative French people that change is for the good.

Perhaps no-one knows better than Alain Juppe, the mayor of this town, how reforms come back to haunt you.

When he was Prime Minister in 1995, serving under President Chirac, he too tried to push through a series of economic reforms.

Result? His government was faced by a wave of protests and was forced to back down.

President Sarkozy may have bitten off more than he can chew.

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