15 February 2012

This year's other Presidential election

The US isn't the only country which will elect a President this year. France votes on April 22, and the results could have Europe-wide or even global impact.

The current President is Nicolas Sarkozy of the conservative UMP coalition, a close ally of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (also a conservative) -- indeed, Merkel and Sarkozy together more or less run the European Union, Germany and France being its two biggest economies. Sarkozy's main opponent in the election is Fran├žois Hollande of the Socialist party. Hollande has a commanding lead over Sarkozy -- 32% to 25% in the latest poll -- and conventional wisdom is that his victory in April is near-certain. There are several other candidates, but in the French system, if no one candidate gets a majority, there is a run-off between the top two vote-getters -- and polls show Hollande would easily beat Sarkozy or any other rival in a run-off.

(The only other candidate with much support is Marine Le Pen of the Front National, a formerly extreme-right party which has moderated under her leadership and rejects the euro currency and EU integration. The fact that her support polls in the 15%-20% range is interesting, but she has no real chance of winning this year's election.)

Why does this matter? Sarkozy, like Merkel, strongly supports the centralized EU and its imposition of austerity policies which are crushing the life out of weaker member nations and are increasingly unpopular throughout the EU. Hollande is somewhat more luke-warm on the EU, but more importantly, he aims to dump the EU-prescribed madness of austerity for the kind of tried-and-true Keynesian stimulus policies that have begun to revive the US -- raise taxes on corporations and the rich, and use spending to encourage job creation. He has described "the world of finance" as his "real adversary". This is one of our kind of guys, not one of theirs. He's also unlikely to get along with Merkel the way Sarkozy does, since Merkel is not only his ideological opposite but has even campaigned for Sarkozy in France.

So when Hollande becomes President, the present German-French co-dominion over the EU is likely to fracture, with France taking a giant step toward economic sanity (French resentment of Germany's growing dominance, and awareness of the damage the euro currency is doing to the French economy, will encourage this). Not only will the split make it harder for the EU to impose its will on smaller countries, but as Hollande's policies begin to revive France, they'll inspire demands for similar policies in other countries.

Conservative, austerity-friendly governments now rule all of the EU's big countries, but in Spain, the Socialists lost the last election because they were too subservient to the EU to govern as socialists, and the right won by default (and is already blowing it). Italy is run by a quisling administration imposed by the EU. Conservatives won Britain's last election because the previous Labour government had been in power over a decade and was pursuing hugely unpopular policies, notably on immigration. Merkel herself is very unpopular in Germany, despite a vigorous economy, and faces an election next year.

The example of a socialist-led revival in the EU's second-biggest economy could well inspire change elsewhere. Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and even Spain are too small and powerless to dare defy the EU too blatantly. France is not.


Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

I do appreciate your keen analysis as I, a bit embarrassingly, have to admit that I don't keep up with European politics as much as I should. I catch bits and pieces here and there - enough to know that the bigger countries have shifted to the right over the last few years - so I'm glad to read your concise report.

15 February, 2012 16:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

LP: Thanks. I actually don't know the French scene as well as I know Britain, Germany, and Russia, but this is too important to pass unmarked.

Europe can't begin to recover until the euro currency and the austerity policies are swept away. A French President willing to break away from the latter (though not the former) would be a step in the right direction.

16 February, 2012 02:30  
Blogger Jack Jodell said...

GO HOLLENDE GO! The world has had enough of this "austerity measures" BS. Bring back the Keynesians in a big way!

16 February, 2012 09:31  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

I have to check with my friends in Paris on this. Surprise, they are on the left, politically. Thanks for enlightening me on this so when I Skype with them the next time I will sound fairly intelligent.

16 February, 2012 17:44  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

JJ: Thank goodness on our side of the Atlantic some sanity still prevails. Looks like the Europeans too have had enough.

SK: Thanks -- I hope your friends in Paris vote. Europe desperately needs shaking up.

16 February, 2012 18:14  

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