Paris is the destination of many travelers. It’s the place of romance and dreams– the home of the Eiffel tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Seine River, and the seat of French national government. The Elysee Palace has been Nicolas Sarkozy’s official residence since his election in 2007.
The general election, held on April 23rd, did not deliver a majority for any of the major party candidates, but narrowed the field. Sarkozy, the incumbent and Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) candidate, received 27.08% of the vote and Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate received 28.63% of the vote.
Surprisingly, to French and Americans alike, Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate and daughter of long time National Front leader, received 18.1% of the vote, which is higher than all of the National Front’s previous percentages. Though La Pen did not receive enough votes to qualify for the run off, she established herself as the party’s new leader and a force in French politics between the current and next election. Further polling of Le Pen’s voters showed that almost half were between 25 and 44, giving Le Pen hope for 2017’s election.
Le Pen headed the second tier of candidates and was followed by the Left Front’s candidate’s 11.5% and the centrist Democratic Movement’s 8.5%. The Green’s, Anticapitalist, Workers Struggle and Solidarity and Progress parties’ candidates all fared far below the Democratic Movements percentage.
I know, another election? Our election cycle has been going on for what seems like an eternity, and only recently did the two nominees become absolutely clear. So lets consider this a warm up, but a warm up that has a lot more at stake than we realize.
Though some of us may like to deride the French for what we view as a lack of commitment and reciprocation of aide and assistance, France has been part of the crucial lynchpin holding Western Europe together, especially after the financial crisis that began in 2008, amplified by Greece’s financial insolvency in 2011. Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to work towards the continuation of the Euro and the European Union, mainly through French and German financial guarantee.
Under Sarkozy, France did not sink into recession in 2008 and was able to recover from the threat of financial degradation, through cuts in permanent public sector jobs. Sarkozy’s policies were not popular among some of the French, who believed his 26 billion Euro (34 billion dollars) stimulus was not enough.
In addition to financial crises, Sarkozy’s France has also faced a cultural crisis when millions of first generation French people from many different backgrounds reach puberty and do not believe they have the same opportunities for success as a natural born French person. Almost half of France’s immigrants are from Africa, a majority of which are from the Islamic Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia). This creates an additional barrier to integration because Muslim immigrants perceive the additional strain of religion in their integration to French culture. The clash reached critical mass in the Fall of 2005, before Sarkozy’s presidency, and was reignited in the Fall of 2007. Though the President does not control the country’s demographics, the demographics and the voting citizens’ perceptions of the demographics do control who is the president, as evidenced by Le Pen’s electoral gains.
Sarkozy’s opponent, the Socialist Francois Hollande, is expected to have won the run-off by a narrow margin. Immediately after the general elections, second and third tier leftist parties and leaders fell in line, and expressed their support for Hollande. Likely an expression of the concept, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and for the sake of political expedience, the additional support nets Hollande an assured 5% from the Greens, Anticapitalist, Workers Struggle and Solidarity and Progress, not to mention votes from the Democratic Movement centrists. So, the question we have to ask is: what can the French and Americans expect from a Hollande France? His policies sound similar to those enacted or stated by a certain Presidential candidate we are more familiar with: raising taxes on businesses, the financial sector, and the wealthy; expanding public sector jobs; subsidizing jobs for youth; same-sex couple marriage and adoption “rights;” and the complete withdrawal of French forces from Afghanistan. Additionally, he plans on lowering the retirement age to 60 from it’s current threshold of 62.
What results would an increase in spending and increased taxes have on France and the European Union? It’s a question some struggle with in the United States, and it is a division between our political parties. However, unlike the United States, France’s membership in the European Union and their joint leadership with Germany in the recent financial crises is at stake. If France travels down the road of increased spending and taxes they are likely to spend themselves into unsustainable comfort resulting in insolvency, which could collapse the euro. If that were to happen, Germany would be left holding the debt. History has shown that when Germany is economically isolated and placed in debt, they do not just accept it.
Is Sarkozy the best for France? I am not sure. Is Sarkozy the best French President for the United States? I certainly believe so.