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An end to Merkozy?

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Robin Lustig | 09:29 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

It's beginning to look as if something quite profound is about to happen in European politics.

A socialist is about to be elected as president of one of the two most important members of the European Union. It hasn't happened since 1988, when François Mitterrand was re-elected for a second term as president of France -- and it could quite dramatically change the way European politics operate.

This time it's another François -- François Hollande, written off until recently as just too boring to win. He is, by all accounts, pleasant, competent -- but, most importantly, he's not Nicolas Sarkozy.

Think of him, perhaps, as France's answer to John Major. If Sarkozy is, as the French media like to call him, Monsieur Bling, then Hollande is Monsieur anti-bling. And it seems that's just what substantial numbers of French voters want.

But just as importantly, he has had the great good fortune not to have been in office when the whirlwind of the global financial crisis struck, and EU economies shuddered to a standstill. To have been a European politician in office over the past four years is to have been swept aside by the combined force of voter fury and market melt-down.

Just look at the list: among the fallen leaders are Gordon Brown (defeated in May 2010); Brian Cowen of Ireland (January 2011); José Socrates of Portugal (June 2011); Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark (October 2011); Silvio Berlusconi of Italy (replaced by the technocrat Mario Monti in November 2011); George Papandreou of Greece (replaced by another technocrat Lucas Papademos); and José Luis Zapatero of Spain (defeated in December 2011).

It's quite a roll-call. And, unless there's a major electoral upset in the offing, the name of Nicolas Sarkozy will soon be added to it.

No one, I suspect, will be pondering the implications more anxiously than the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. She and Monsieur Bling were never natural soul-mates, but they did eventually find a way to work together, and between them they managed to steer some sort of path through the euro crisis. Hence the emergence of the Berlin-Paris consensus that came to be known as Merkozy.

Chancellor Merkel and M Hollande will have some tricky re-positioning to do if he does move into the Élysée Palace next month. The French socialist is committed to renegotiating the "fiscal stability pact" which was meant to save the euro from disaster -- and even if he finds some way to row back from his campaign rhetoric, he will need something to wave in triumph for the voters back home.

Sarkozy has been warning darkly about how the financial markets will react if François Hollande does win. It's a perfectly understandable campaign tactic, but there may well be a renewed outbreak of the jitters if there's a changing of the guard in Paris.

Add to the French uncertainty the upcoming elections in Greece, with neither of the major parties there looking as if they'll be in a position to form a stable coalition -- oh yes, and factor in the growing fears about the Spanish debt crisis -- and you have, I'm afraid, pretty much everything you need for another round of "euro melt-down" headlines.

That's why the outcome of the French election matters, even if you don't have any plans to cross the Channel this summer. With the UK economy still teetering precariously between recession and stagnation, the last thing we want is for euroland to plunge back into crisis.

That's not to say that an election victory for M Hollande will be a good thing or a bad thing -- French voters are well able to make up their own minds about that -- but there seems to be a view in some quarters that French politics don't much matter to us. I doubt that it was ever true (how could it be as long as the EU was driven by the Franco-German partnership?), but even if it was, I seriously doubt that it's a claim you'd want to make now.

So do tune in for the last of Ritula's extended reports from France on tonight's (Friday's) programme. (If you miss it, it'll still be available as a podcast or via iPlayer in the usual way.)


  • Comment number 1.

    Part 1.
    Sarkozy has trailed Hollande in every poll over past 11 months. Hollande promises more spending, higher taxes. Sarkozy claims credit for spending cuts & retirement-age increase he says warded off the worst of the euro debt-crisis turmoil.
    Winner faces commitments to EU on debt reduction. Govt debt will exceed 90% GDP next year.
    Sarkozy has promised to reach the EU limit of 3% + growth of 1%.

    Whoever wins is going to have to start talking honestly about how to tackle the deficits and debt levels. Final polls before vote showed Hollande with a lead in a head-to-head match of between 7 & 14 points over the incumbent, who is finishing his first five-year term - one term President.

    Hollande, party leader from 1997 - 2008, would be the first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand in 1995. He has never held a minister’s post. He has proposed a 75% on the wealthiest, an increase in the minimum wage, renegotiating European treaties on deficit limits so that growth has better chance, & banning leveraged buyouts.

    Sarkozy has said speculators will attack French bonds should Hollande be elected. While S&P will cut France even further than AAA. It is particularly difficult to know from either Hollande or Sarkozy what are political rhetoric and electioneering and what are true, verifiable statements.

  • Comment number 2.

    Part 2.
    A Sarkozy ouster would follow leaders in Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Spain, Slovenia & Slovakia since the debt crisis began, & make Sarkozy second French president after Valery Giscard D’Estaing in 1981 to lose a re-election bid. Sarkozy’s 36% approval rating in an April 15 Ifop Poll is the lowest for any post-World War II French president.

    In the final days of campaigning, both Hollande and Sarkozy have backed a more activist ECB. This, of course, risks tensions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The comments by Sarkozy also broke a pledge by Sarkozy & Merkel last November not to publicly comment about the ECB (and makes Sarkozy seem rather desperate).

    You'd think voting percentage would be way up, but about 70% of voters have told pollsters theyare less than keen. As many as a quarter of registered voters may not vote; that would be the second-highest abstention rate in a French presidential election, and seems to indicate a sense of hopelessness - no matter who leads. With high unemployment and France’s loss of its triple-A rating, Sarkozy doesn’t have much of a record to run on, but Hollande has never even held a ministerial position. He doesn’t have much charisma. For many voters, it’s a question of the lesser of two evils.

    No matter who wins, and I can't believe it will be Sarkozy, French politics will become extremely interesting over the next year.

  • Comment number 3.

    With many European countries having believed the ´free lunch´ will continue forever, the few northern countries (including Germany) who are doing their best to keep their heads above water --will not at all be amused at going back to the negotiation table especially with so many uncertainties still affecting many of the ´financially weaker´ spendthrifts.

    If Hollande wins the election there is no reason why he himself (and France) should not be responsible for their own wishes. The safety nets in place are not meant for the deliberate sabotage of the "fiscal stability pact" and the ECB rules have already been bent backwards enough to keep some form of monetary´stability´. The ink is not yet dry on the 3% rule signed to by France.

    Those who signed ´on the dotted line´ and honestly accept the pact, should now be considering a strategy without France (and maybe some others ?) who will make their borrowing costs even more expensive if Hollande gets his way.

    If Europe is indeed ´drowning´-- one should try to the empty the bathtub instead of filling it --they are all in the same boat --no matter the denials.

  • Comment number 4.

    "A socialist is about to be elected as president of one of the two most important members of the European Union."

    --not exactly true.

    Angela Merkel is perhaps the leader of the Christian Democrats in Germany --but she has ´out-lefted´ the ´left´ on all major issues -- her CDU party does not know what hit them and is confused.

    Usually a red scarf is the trade-mark of the Socialist SPD -- but she turned up in an even brighter red suit as she spoke as Bundeskanzlerin -- that seemed to have been ignored by some at the time.

    Her apparent strong belief in the responsibilities of Germany´s ´Sozialmarktwitschaft´ system to do the best possible for its citizens-- and that mixed with her DDR Christian upbringing makes her a formidable challenge for any ´Leftist´ --she knows very well the limits from her DDR experience.

    -- Hollande should respect this --if he is elected.

  • Comment number 5.

    Bienvenu/Willkommen Merland!

    Or it is the economy stupid.

    The mainstream parties in most of the Western World are centrist parties. Sarkosy veers to the right to win votes - and so does Hollande. Both are enslaved to a right wing media and press.

    No one can say "l'état c'est moi" any longer, but the media still like to build up figureheads as being omnipotent and still reject the ideas of the French Revolution (or even the earlier English one!)

    Media people - WAKE UP! The king is dead long live the people! (Le roi est mort vive le peuple! or some such.)

    François Hollande still has the same problems of the economy and the same solutions. Anglo Saxon asset price inflation has laid waste to much of Europe. We all must rebuild our economy ion the basis of assets that are priced so that their economic dominance is proportionate to their position in the economy. Shops must be priced so that shopkeepers can run shops at a profit - not as they are at present at a huge loss becasue of the absurdly high price of the premises. (Similarly houses must fall in price too so that workers can afford to live somewhere.)

    Likewise money must again be properly priced so that pensions and savings again become worthwhile economic activities - sorry but the western world's banks are bust! Until we take the last point on board the European economy will remain in a long depression.

  • Comment number 6.

    "the last thing we want is for euroland to plunge back into crisis."

    At least Mr. Lustig and JfH have kept their sanity and can see what the demise and failure of the Euro would mean.

    The old saying --"If you are not in panic --then you don´t understand the problem" -- has never been more true.

    This appears to be the problem of some BBC contributors especially from the UK and USA.

    This link should put some ´reality´into the catastrophe they wish.


    --hardly a pretty picture of the ´Armageddon´ that may follow -- Hollande (if he wins) -- will not only have Merkel to contend with --if he ´rocks the presently leaky boat´.

  • Comment number 7.

    The pundits are already giving Hollande the final victory --with probably 10 point lead over Sarkozy.

    -- More EU and Euro jitters are on the way.

  • Comment number 8.

    The first round vote on April 22 in France has produced some surprises though the top two candidates for the final round will be Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy as expected. Hollande beat Sarkozy in vote totals by only 1% but the biggest surprise was Marine Le Pen's 20% third place showing. Jean-luc Melenchon the Left Front candidate dropped to 12% a very poor finish despite the surge in support that he appeared to enjoy. Le Pen has continued the strong support that her father won in the 2002 election when he challenged Jacques Chirac for the final round. It is expected that Sarkozy will benefit from the Front National first round vote of which 50% will go to Sarkozy in the final round. The Socialist Party expected to win easily in the second round but it appears now that it will be closer than they reckoned for. My impression from the little news available in English is that the French electorate was mainly concerned with the immigration issue that has played such a big role in the Front National party platform. But the results of this election can have profound implications for the austerity issue in the euro crisis and the future of Western imperialistic intervention in the Middle East.

  • Comment number 9.

    I've been reading the French media for half an hour - in particular which parts of the country voted for which candidate (try [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] if you are interested that have a well presented regional breakdown.

    Areas in the south (&rural) seem to have gone strongly right, whilst the industrial favour the left - rather like our own system! This is just as expected. One interetsing line I noticed was Hollande comparing his vote with that of Mitterrand - he has done better!

    Of course one does get diverted by the resignation of the Dutch government and "Scandale des écoutes"!

    I would encourage everyone to read the French press. I'm going to wander off into the German press reaction if I get time later.

  • Comment number 10.

    9 bis

    The moderators have remove as 'unsuitable' my url reference to 'Le Monde''s website.

  • Comment number 11.

    #10 JfH

    -- Did it break --or was it in French ?

    -- Foreign language links are not allowed.

  • Comment number 12.

    #11 quietoaktree

    The url was to 'le monde dot fr' (no spaces) the route page of the highly esteemed French publication. It is of course impossible to not use the French language in a French url! I have written whole sentences in both French and German before and these have escaped being censored. I can only conclude that there is some prohibition from, or put upon the BBC in citing Le Monde of which we know not. Is this censorship the result of a super injection!!!!

    Would I have got the same treatment if I had referred to for example, Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (which incidentally does not lead tonight on the French voting, but the Dutch Government resignation)?

    What I wanted to point out is that there is a really good find out how each area voted section on Le Monde's web site for that that are interested.

    This absolute resistance to reading, comprehending and writing the languages of our near neighbours in this day and age is a tragic consequence of our dire education system. What are the establishment afraid of? That the monoglot english would find out that perfidious foreigners are just like us!

    This type of censorship shows us who we really are! Soon I expect the BBC will ban the dark arts of arithmetic as being un english! Will they censor long words too! (Actually they have already done this with the 400 character blog limit.) The BBC wants its blog contributors to be limited to monosyllabic grunts!

  • Comment number 13.

    #12 J-f-H

    -- I always link to the English part of ´Spiegel-online´

    -- My complaints are just as many -- but at times different. I was really considering to ´give up the fight´. Victimization was also suspected -- I have said I will behave myself if ´referrals´are decided on within 16 hours.

    The problem was (is) that the Mods can also ´refer´--and that the days are gone when contributions were defended against frivolous complaints. I know that with some contributors --they will attempt to ´refer´any reply not wished.

    What I like about Robin´s blog is that he presents the dilemma -- and of course no character limit.

    We can only look after each other and protest bitterly if ´Censorship referrals ´become excessive or unfair.

  • Comment number 14.

    '13. At 00:15 24th Apr 2012, quietoaktree wrote:
    #12 J-f-H'

    "First they came... and I could not speak", etc.

    Some wished uncarefully, and got it.

    Don't forget, there is always twitter, or FaceBook:)


    'It's all going very well', to paraphrase young Mr. Grace.

  • Comment number 15.


    Mark Urban has been spared! Or, more likely, overlooked...


  • Comment number 16.

    15. At 06:05 25th Apr 2012, Scotch Git

    Maybe the near 30% hike in comments since the last one bought a reprieve?

  • Comment number 17.

    Everyone, almost everywhere, understood that their governments sold out their people to be robbed by the bankers. The bankers went unpunished but hopefully the politicians will not. The greatest theft in history compounded by the greatest betrayal by governments. The threat that the banks will do harm to France is they vote wrong, is exactly the problem that must be addressed. The banks must be controlled.

  • Comment number 18.

    This may be more than the end of "Merkozy".
    Mr. Normal is planning to do something outstanding - almost as soon as he is elected. He plans to conduct a complete financial audit.
    I believe the results will show why banks cannot lend and what diseases have infiltrated the financial markets. I believe there may be astonishment.

  • Comment number 19.

    Todays ( Thursday 26/4) BBC Business Daily had a very interesting 55min. discussion (Podcast) between ´EU- Berlin-Madrid´ on ´ fiscal austerity´


  • Comment number 20.

    Although the final round vote will be close, Hollande appears to maintain a slight lead according to most reports. Sarkozy's personality and style bothers many of his fellow citizens while Hollande offends noone but lacks any charisma. The endorsement of Marine Le Pen would give a big boost to Sarkozy's chances. She thus far has declined to take sides in the final round contest. Perhaps the decisive issue will be the austerity drive of Merkozy which has decimated Greece and threatens Portugal and now Spain. The French working class may feel threatened as well and hope that electing Hollande will turn the economic tide to growth.



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