Is Hollande’s program, based on increasing government expenditures and raising taxes in order to stimulate growth, what the situation calls for? The current assessment is that it is not enough, and that he will have to make drastic cuts to government expenses, improve tax collection, and implement structural reforms.
Hollande will need help from the EU, especially Angela Merkel, who has already made it clear that some of his suggestions, such as reconsidering agreements signed in the context of the EU designed to cut budget deficits and institute budgetary discipline that would be anchored in national legislation, are not acceptable.
In an interview a few weeks ago, Nicolas Sarkozy, playing on the statement often attributed to Louis XV, said that he didn’t expect a deluge to come after him. To judge by the election results, it seems that the French electorate shared his assessment and decided to entrust it future for the next five years to socialist Francois Hollande. Sarkozy thus joins a long line of heads of state in the EU who, since the start of the economic-financial crisis, have failed to be reelected to a second term. The reasons for Sarkozy’s failure were not only his leadership, personality, and lifestyle, which infuriated many, but more particularly his inability to implement even a fraction of his economic program. His successor now faces the difficult mission of extricating France from the crisis.
As a direct result of the economic crisis, which has made the French public anxious and uncertain about its socioeconomic future, the question of Muslim immigration and integration was brought to the fore, as was the discussion of French identity popularized by Sarkozy. The constraint that dictated the handling of these issues (in addition to the Toulouse terrorist attack) was the rising support for Marine Le Pen’s far right party, which fed on the anxieties of the public looking for scapegoats for the deteriorating economic situation. Le Pen’s successes indicate a public willingness to support populist solutions, a growing worrisome trend among other European nations.
During his presidency Sarkozy also tried to leave his stamp on security and foreign affairs (which were largely pushed aside in the election campaign). In terms of continuity in several issues (the nuclear policy, the Mediterranean dimension, and relations with the Arab world, for example), Sarkozy responded to certain situations and adapted policies to changing circumstances, leaving behind an impression of opportunism and improvisation.
The 80 percent of respondents in a May 2011 public opinion poll who said that Franceas international standing had been weakened, and the May 2011 letter by a group of diplomats to a French newspaper about the disappearing voice of France, claiming that improvisation was dictating French policy, reflect Sarkozy’s failure in security and foreign affairs. At the same time, it is doubtful if any other policy could have reclaimed the lost French influence in the international arena.
An examination of the president-election statements and platform show that any change expected in foreign relations will be in style more than in content. Regarding Iran, for example, Hollande has made it clear that alongside negotiations with the international community Iran must be made to understand, via sanctions, that France is opposed to Iran attaining nuclear weapons.
Hollande expressed opposition to a military operation.
Hollande expressed opposition to a military operation. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hollande (who is considered pro- Israel) expressed support for Israel’s security and the two-state solution. The pro-Palestinian bias in the socialist party will hopefully not affect the ongoing trend of separating disagreements on the conflict (disagreements that will not be resolved) from expanding bilateral relations.
More than Hollande having won the election, it was Sarkozy who lost his bid to provide the French public with a sense of socioeconomic security and hope for a better future. It is doubtful whether at a time of economic crisis and growing unemployment Hollande will get the one hundred days of grace accorded most new leaders. The urgent task that will determine his political fate will be to extricate France from the economic-financial crisis in which it now founders.