This Sunday 6th of May 2012, at 8p.m, after months and weeks of ping-pong statements, endless debates and a great dose of anxiety, François Hollande became France’s new President. Hollande reaches the highest rank of power as the second socialist president of the French 5th Republic.
According to the poll organisation IPSOS, at 8p.m, the first count of the votes granted François Hollande with 51.9% of the votes whereas the former President Nicolas Sarkozy obtained 48.1%. The abstention is estimated at about 19%.
Although the results can appear quite tight between the two candidates, they still express the existent “anti-sarkozysm” feeling in France and thus act as a sanction vote against the former president. Nicolas Sarkozy has been the least popular president of the 5th Republic, with polls estimating up to 60% the population disapproved of him.
For the past ten years, Sarkozy ruled over France first as home secretary, and then as president. Within that time unemployment has kept increasing, hitting most harshly the youth under 25 and seniors close to retirement age. The economic crisis struck France as the rest of the European Union and raised drastically its debt. By making the choice of austerity reforms, Sarkozy has made strong cuts within the public service, which historically had always been a source of pride for the country, reducing the numbers of policemen and teachers.
Yet, this policy did little, if nothing, to prevent France to fall in recession, and on top of that, Standard and Poor’s gave the final blow by downgrading France’s AAA. Without evening mentioning the several dirty affairs that permanently stained Sarkozy’s reputation, the outcome of ten years of Sarkozysm, can not, even objectively, be considered as positive.
Moreover, Sarkozy’s latest campaign has mainly focused on regaining Marine Le Pen’s, leader on the far right party (FN), votes emphasising a very severe immigrant policy. Sarkozy has for long provoked uneasiness within his own party. The French conservative party is far less steady and united as it used to be, and is constantly threatened on its right by the growing FN.
However, despite Sarkosy’s previous unpopularity, he managed to obtain a good score: four little points separate the two men which shows the general tendency to return to the traditional two major parties at election time.
But what is more interesting is to understand what enabled Hollande, unknown by the majority three years ago, to walk up to the highest step of the French state. Despite his French nickname “Flamby” – a kind of jellied vanilla and caramel cheap yoghurt that illustrates his wimpy character – Hollande managed a constant and strong campaign. Thanks to the right’s increasing division, he gathered beyond his own party and benefited from the far left’s good score in the first round of the elections.
Hollande’s election is also likely to shake French politics. The French people will be called again to the ballot box between the 10th and 17th of June for the parliamentary elections. Although the socialist party is expected to win the majority of seats, Marine Le Pen (far right) bets on the implosion of the conservative party and hopes to present herself as the leader of the opposition. The rise of the far right party in France echoes similar situations in the Netherlands or Greece where, in time of crisis, the traditional parties are rejected and nationalistic claims become more visible.
The Financial Times has recently stated that François Hollande was “a small “c” conservative who wants to reclaim Europe’s postwar social model”. Either “small c” or “Flamby”, Hollande’s policy does not break up the current economic model, but seems to offer a softer path through capitalism. Social justice and the youth stand as the two main pillars of his programme, and he advocates a Keynesian kick-start for the economy which he would like to spread to Europe.
As the Spanish paper El Païs explains: “no French presidential election in recent memory has been on such a continental scale as this one”. For many, the threat of a freeze of the Franco-German partnership is the main concern following Hollande’s election: he does not share Merkel’s view on austerity.
Yet, France remains one of the main engines of the European Union, and Hollande’s policy is likely to introduce a real debate on the socio-economic orientation of the Union.
This French 6th of May 2012 could spill far over France’s frontiers.