Is a six-point election margin a mandate? That's what the headlines are saying today, following the victory of Nicolas Sarkozy over Socialist Segolene Royal. (Economist's coverage here. BBC here. AFP's latest here.) With voter turnout at an impressive 85%, perhaps it's fair to look at it that way. An awful lot of French citizens appear to have cast a vote for change.

France's economy continues to lag much of the rest of developed Europe, a situation most observers blame on hide-bound bureaucracy, stifling labor laws, and a rampant over-reliance on public-sector employment. (Imagine a place where GE (NYSE:GE) can't fire employees, GM (NYSE:GM) would struggle to divest itself of losing ventures, and Ford (NYSE:F) workers can't be asked to put in more than 35 hours a week, and you'll have a general idea of the woes economists see in France.)

Sarkozy promises to undo the worst of these hindrances, hoping to unstick the French economy. As such, the vote for him was, more than in the past, a vote for real change. As you would expect, Socialists and union leaders aren't pleased, and many wonder how far the new president will be able to push before the slums erupt in flaming skirmishes and students take to the streets demanding the kinds of short-sighted job security that have crippled French hiring practices.

We'll see. In the past, Sarkozy has been a polarizing personality, something his opponent tried to exploit in the most shameful way in the run-up to the final election, by predicting violence if he were elected. Beyond that, Sarkozy's pro-business stance sometimes falls apart when he hits French borders. He's been quick to call for nationalist protectionism when it comes to companies he considers too important to be shaken up or (Dieu forbid!) purchased by foreigners.

If he can spend his newfound political capital wisely, the French economy may very well get a shot in the arm. That would be a good thing, since French businesses such as Wal-Mart's (NYSE:WMT) model, Carrefour, and utility giant Suez (NYSE:SZE) are world leaders. It would be nice if a new generation were able to take root in a freer, more fertile French business climate.

Seth is a member of the Motley Fool Global Gains team, which watches national politics while scouring the world for the best investment opportunities. A free trial will show you what they're watching.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had no positions in any company mentioned here. See his latest blog commentary here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here. Wal-Mart is an Inside Value pick.