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Europe has no reasons to fear Francois Hollande presidency in France

11:22 | 28.04.2012 | Analytic

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28 April 2012. PenzaNews. The prospect of Francois Hollande victory in the presidential elections in France may be causing nervousness in Berlin and some other countries in EU, but the socialist candidate is a natural compromise-builder, and Europe should have no real reason to fear his victory. This is the opinion expressed by Thomas Klau, the head of the Paris office and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Francois Hollande. Photo by Matthieu Riegler

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“As expected, the two main parties’ top candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, have emerged as frontrunners from the first round of the presidential election in France,” the expert reminded.

Meanwhile, the country has escaped a replay of the shock scenario of 2002, when the leader of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, did better than Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and displaced that socialist leader from the decisive second round of voting. Le Pen’s daughter Marine may not have replicated that particular success — but by another measure, according to the analyst, she has done even better.

“Scoring close to 18% of the vote, despite high overall voter participation that usually works against the extremes, she drew a bigger share of the electorate than her father had ten years ago. Her strategy of distancing herself from her father’s antisemitism and “mainstreaming” much of the rhetoric (but not the policy content) of her extremist anti-migration and anti-EU party worked. The reach of the Front National now appears broader than ever,” Thomas Klau said.

As France now gears up for the decisive second round of voting for its future president on May 6, the main focus, according to the expert, will be on the duel between the centre-right President-in-office, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the man most political strategists already hail as the President-in-waiting, the centre-left socialist Francois Hollande.

“The socialist candidate emerges from the first round with strong political headwind: his first place in the polls energizes his party and depresses the political troops of his centre-right opponent,” the head of the Paris office at the European Council on Foreign Relations noted.

In addition, the analyst said that Nicolas Sarkozy, saddled with bad popularity ratings and the difficult burden of five years in office during a major financial crisis, immediately went out on the attack. He challenged Francois Hollande to three TV duels rather than the one foreseen until now, with some of his allies taxing Francois Hollande with cowardice and evasiveness for refusing to yield to his demand. According to the expert’s words, the president must now hope to persuade more than half of Marine Le Pen’s protest-prone electorate to vote for him on May 6.

“He must however do so without alienating all or most of the 9% who voted for the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou. This is a balancing act so difficult as to make a Sarkozy defeat as good as a foregone conclusion in the eyes of many observers,” the expert stated.

Moreover, many analysts expect that if Nicolas Sarkozy brings it off, an angry left-of centre-electorate will flock to the polls in such numbers as to return a centre-left majority in the subsequent elections to the French parliament on June 10 and 17.

“France and her Europeans allies would then be faced with the unpalatable reality of one of the two leading countries in the eurozone entering a five year presidential mandate with what the French call “cohabitation” — in this case, of a conservative president with a left-wing parliamentary majority and government,” Thomas Klau said.

From his point of view, no one in Paris expects that cohabitation would produce anything like a government of national unity steering the country smoothly through the economically and financially difficult times ahead.

“Rather, previous experiences suggest a period of destabilizing conflict at the heart of French politics, slowed decision-making, limited policy choices, and difficult interaction between France and her partners,” the analyst noted.

Moreover, according to Thomas Klau, even some governments of the centre-right, faced with such a prospect, grudgingly acknowledge in private that a clean double victory of the left would offer a better prospect for stability and efficiency.

Meanwhile, the expert noted that there is some speculation in Paris over whether a President Hollande could expect to draw on his own Socialist Party majority in the Assemblee Nationale or whether he would have to enter some form of coalition or government agreement with a smaller party like France’s struggling Greens or even the much reduced Parti Communiste.

“In either scenario, Francois Hollande, given the extraordinarily strong constitutional position of a French president, would be largely free to conduct France’s European policy according to his wishes. Serious constraints would arise only from pressures to call a referendum on major issues, or from the need to obtain a three-fifths parliamentary majority for constitutional changes,” Thomas Klau stated.

According to his words, there is much speculation about the degree of disruption Francois Hollande would bring to European and more specifically eurozone politics. The socialist leader is serious when he calls for a refocusing of the eurozone’s new economic governance framework towards more growth-friendly policies.

“He wants to enable the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg to extend more credit to small and medium companies, reallocate unspent EU budget cohesion funds to boost growth, create European project bonds to finance infrastructure and other growth-oriented projects, and change the relationship between the European Central Bank and the European Financial Stability Mechanism so that the latter can draw on funds of the former,” Thomas Klau said.

“Yet Hollande is neither a demagogue nor a revolutionary firebrand. With Spain and Italy facing darkening economic and budgetary prospects, a new push for more activist growth policies for the eurozone might not see him as isolated in Europe as some had initially predicted,” he added.

Meantime, according to the analyst, it is clear that a Hollande victory would be followed by a period of tension with Germany and other partners. How long it would last would be partly determined by financial markets’ reaction to the new French policy.

“If markets stay calm, a President Hollande could afford to open up a longer period of European uncertainty. If not, a scenario of aggravated instability in Italy and Spain with a risk of market contagion to France is one no new French president can afford to provoke and sustain,” the head of the Paris office stated.

Meanwhile, according to Thomas Klau, it is impossible to predict how long it would take for the eurozone to come to a new consensus on austerity versus growth. However, the expert believes that there is no reason to doubt such a consensus will be found.

“Francois Hollande has said repeatedly that despite the cool treatment he received at the hands of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor would be his most important partner in Europe,” the analyst reminded.

Moreover, he emphasized that Hollande’s personal character as a man enjoying the building of compromises and averse to aggressive leadership might soon become a diplomatic asset.

“Europe has no particular reason to fear a Hollande presidency,” Thomas Klau concluded.

Francois Gerard Georges Hollande was born on August 12,1954 in Rouen, France.

In 1997–2008 he was the First Secretary of the French Socialist Party.

Since 2008 he has been the President of the General Council of Correze and a Deputy of the National Assembly of France.

In 2011 Francois Hollande was nominated to be the Socialist candidate in the 2012 presidential election in France.

In the first round of presidential elections in France, which took place on April 22, 2012, 35 million 883 thousand 209 votes were recognized as valid, 36 million 584 thousand 399 people voted, and there were 46 million 28 thousand 542 voters in the electoral list.

Francois Hollande obtained 10 million 272 thousand 705 votes, incumbent President of France Nicolas Sarkozy — 9 million 753 thousand 629 votes. Third place was taken by the leader of the National Front Marine Le Pen — 6 million 421 thousand 426 votes.

The leader of the Left Front Jean-Luc Melanshon won 3 million 984 thousand 822 votes. The leader of Democratic Movement (MoDem) Francois Bayrou — 3 million 275 thousand122 votes.

The other candidates got less than 1 million votes.

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