It’s been a bad week for French President Nicholas Sarkozy, with polls showing his rival, Socialist candidate François Hollande, steadily gaining ground. The latest opinion polls show Hollande leading with 59 percent of the vote, nearly the 60 percent necessary to win a head-to-head contest in the first round of elections just under two months away.Yet this election’s themes appear to transcend a simple divide between Right and Left. Hollande’s leftist rhetoric (“my enemy is the world of finance”) may have some appeal in France, but this isn’t fueling his recent surge in popularity. Instead, the socialist hopeful has managed to capture votes by asserting the primacy of French purposes, ideas, and interests against a Germany attempting to impose its will on the continent. Fear of German dominance has colored French politics for more than a century, and Hollande’s recent success suggests that this fear remains potent.If so, this is bad news for the president. The escalating debt crisis has made Sarkozy and Merkel the public face of the European Union, and even widespread rumors of the personal antipathy between the two have not shaken the “Merkozy” image. Insofar as French voters look to define their national identity in opposition to Germany, opponents can portray him as a German pawn.It is no surprise, then, that Merkel agreed to campaign for her faltering ally, though she risks a fraught partnership with the man who could be France’s next president. If Hollande wins on a wave of French nationalism, Europe’s already sclerotic decision making may get even worse.