17 years later the socialists are back in power. François Hollande was elected president of France on Sunday evening. He is the second socialist, after François Mitterrand, to assume the highest function of the state. Mr. Hollande defeated Mr. Sarkozy with 51.62% of votes. Interestingly, these numbers do not represent the reality of the votes of French citizens in the US overwhelmingly in favor of Mr. Sarkozy with 61.30%. The magazine France-Amérique even published an article entitled, “Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the US.” This is no surprise considering that a large majority of French expats tends to be wealthier and more entrepreneur than the French back home.
At my great surprise, Mr Hollande’s victory speech was not as memorable as I was expecting or even hoping. He addressed a very large crowd cheering his victory at the beautiful square of la Bastille in Paris. This was nothing compare to Mr. Obama’s speech back in 2008. Across town at the building of the Mutualité, Mr. Sarkozy declared to a sadden crowd that he takes full responsibility for the failures of his government. His speech was quite interesting, and he appeared to be personally affected by the result. Mr. Sarkozy’s strategy to go after the extreme right voters has certainly been a mistake. The use of the Front National’s narratives and themes did hurt Mr. Sarkozy integrity and image throughout his presidency and campaign.
Here are several thoughts on what’s next for the newly elected President of France.
First, Mr. Hollande may have won the presidency, the socialists need to assure the majority to the coming legislative elections. So far Mr. Sarkozy has announced that he will not lead the way for his party, the UMP. However, the engine of the UMP is already rolling full speed in order to limit the socialist wave over the legislative branch. Marine le Pen, the extreme right candidate, has abstained by voting white on May 6th in order to prove her integrity to her supporters. She is targeting a high result in a month. Controlling the legislative branch will be central for giving Mr. Hollande enough room to move and implement his policies and reforms. He even underlined this point during his Sunday’s speech at the Bastille.
Second, the game of musical chairs has begun in France. We can all hear the music. Former ministers, failed politicians, former presidential candidates, and friends are all fighting to get a ministry and/or a position in the government of Hollande. Hopefully, Mr Hollande will encircle himself with savvy politicians as he has done during his campaign. Interestingly, many did not believe in the possible success of Mr. Hollande back in 2009. As illustrated in a short piece in the French magazine, Le Nouvel Observateur, Stéphane Le Foll, a close person to Hollande, declared that all the rats that left the Hollandais boat two years ago will be welcomed with the following statement: “Welcome back the rats!”
Third, what is next for the transatlantic relationship? How will President Obama deal with his French counterpart? The Republican party will not miss an occasion to frame Obama as a socialist if he interacts with Mr. Hollande. The uninformed American public will certainly buy Obama’s relations with France as a socialist/communist/fascist coalition. This will be tricky for Mr. Obama to build a new relationship with an important European partner without giving too many arguments to his republican counterparts.
Fourth, I truly cannot wait to see how Mr. Hollande performs in May in Chicago for the NATO and G8 summits. These will be a real challenge considering his lack of international expertise. Many have speculated that Mr. Hollande will remove France from the integrated structure of NATO. I don’t think that Mr. Hollande is planning to upset France’s military allies for domestic political gain. Mr. Hollande has less than a month in order to be briefed and up to speed for this important summit that will be laying out the NATO’s strategy for the next decade. Furthermore, the NATO summit is also critical for the future of the mission in Afghanistan. There are many unknown around the future of France’s role in Afghanistan. Mr. Hollande pledged for an accelerate withdrawal from Afghanistan if elected despite the long-term commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014. Put simply by a NATO officer, “There are election promises and then there are postelection realities.” It would not be surprising to see France staying in Afghanistan until 2014.
Fifth, Mr. Hollande got elected at a critical juncture for not only France but also Europe. The challenges facing France and Europe, as argued by the Financial Times, are real: stagnation, high unemployment, low competitively, high labor costs, considerable budget deficits, and lower credit rating. Then at the European level, Hollande must decide on the future of the European fiscal pact previously designed by the Merkozy couple. Getting Germany on board will be crucial. However, it seems that Germany is not keen in renegotiating the fiscal pact. Mr. Hollande has clearly made a point that Franco-German hostilities will not be beneficial for neither country. He has already talked on the phone with Ms. Merkel and is planning an early trip to Berlin.
As expressed by many Sarkozy’ supporters, following the announcement of the results on Sunday night, “we are f*****.” The socialists need to realize that the country is extremely divided politically and ideologically. François Hollande did offer a more attractive platform for many than his rival; however, one needs to understand that the very high unpopularity of Mr. Sarkozy played a decisive role in the decisions of voters. Sarkozy made costly public relations mistakes early on in his mandate – the character of President Bling-Bling; his close relations with the French elite; la nuit du fouquet; and so on – that have affected his credibility and likability among French voters. Europe, the EU, and France are all in crisis, winning the elections was an important step in bringing change, however it is nothing comparable to the actual tasks facing Mr. Hollande these next five years.
1.La place de la Bastille dimanche soir. (AFP)
2. AFP. Election présidentielle. http://www.liberation.fr/politiques/2012/04/22/presidentielle-2012-tous-les-resultats-ville-par-ville_813180
3. Discours de François Hollande place de la Bastille le 6 mai 2012. (Photo Bertrand Langlois. AFP)