The dust has settled after the French election race. It was a tough campaign by any standards. Even observers located outside France, like this author, couldn’t fail to notice this. Let’s analyse what happened, why it happened and what the future holds.
The facts first. François Hollande will succeed Nicolas Sarkozy as the president of France (see results). Sarkozy failed to secure re-election for a second term in office. He is the first president to ‘achieve’ this. The Irish Times’s article Eight reasons why Hollande won – and Sarkozy lost presents us with a neat overview of issues that ended his reign. What are the main points?
- According to the article the main obstacle for re-election was the state of the ailing French economy. Every officeholder that wants to stay on must perform at least reasonably well on economic issues. With the unemployment rate expected to hit a 12-year high of 9.7 per cent next month, this was to tall an order. The famous proverb widely used during Bill Clinton‘s successful 1992 presidential campaign against George Bush It’s the economy, stupid comes to mind. It proved correct.
- Sarkozy did not manage to attract sufficient support on the far Right while holding the Centre. Marine Le Pen‘s National Front regained votes lost in 2007. This time many voters preferred the original over the copy on issues like immigration and security. The game was up when Le Pen refused to support Sarkozy’s bid in the 2nd round run-off.
- Hollande proved to be a formidable opponent. He had an effective campaign management at his disposal with a balanced program for government. This made him frontrunner early on in the race. Furthermore he grew in stature during the campaign the same way Sarkozy diminished.
So what does the future hold? Foreign observers will be particularly interested to see how much leeway he actually has in respect to Europe (and to Germany), a Europe that has only one answer to all its problems, austerity. Will he be able to renegotiate the Fiscal Compact which he promised to do? Can he break the vicious cycle of weak economic growth, widening budget deficits resulting in spiralling public debt, addressed only by austerity but followed soon by even lesser growth, higher deficits, yet more debt, followed of course by more austerity leading again to lesser economic activity? To do so he will need to stand up against Germany’s current policy, a policy that holds the view that what is good for banks (the market) must be good for the economy at large. The European response to the ongoing financial crisis has this postulate written all over it. In the cases of Greece and Spain, its consequences are catastrophic.
The question is fundamental, the answer will be revealing. Who is running western democracies in the 21st century, elected governments or privately owned banks? We are looking once again to France for directions.