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French Voters Rejecting Sarkozy

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.

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  • Jim.

    It’s not clear to me that this is a crisis of “decision making”; Brussels seems to be able to pump out documents and decrees on a regular basis.

    This is a crisis of basic legitimacy.

    Greeks don’t believe they have to abide by any financial directives (or even guidelines) that might make their place in the system sustainable. Germans don’t believe that the Brussels has the right to demand their money in perpetuity for handouts.

    This is known as “irreconcilable differences” in America. Europe is about to undergo a great divorce.

  • Eurydice

    @Jim – What the Germans believe about their rights and the rights of Brussels is irrelevent – they signed onto a system in which someone else is going to tell them what to do, forever. That’s not irreconcilable differences,” that’s “buyers remorse.”

  • Kenny

    Jim is right — “Europe is about to undergo a great divorce.”

  • gezatop

    And which army is going to enforce the “someone else is going to tell them what to do, forever” part?

  • Albert

    I think that Merkel, by supporting Sarko, is laying the ground for a serious spat with Hollande that will lead to Germany’s exit from the Euro. All the while blaming Hollande for being unreasonable about wanting to go back on France’s previous commitments.

  • Eurydice

    @gezatop – that’s like asking which army will enforce the law of gravity. Germany gave up its currency in favor of one which is managed outside its state. Germany no longer has the final word on its own economic matters – that’s just a fact of life. They can try to make the EU smaller and as German as possible, but it’s still not the same thing as having their own currency. And given the lessons of the past and the uncertainties of the future, there’s no guarantee that Germany will always be so hale and hearty that it will never need help from its fellow members. For whatever reason, they put themselves in a situation in which they have to play well with others – they may kick and scream now about fairness, but it was their choice.

  • Jules

    Germany no longer has the final word on its own economic matters – that’s just a fact of life

    Well, I’m not sure, but the Germans seem to be getting their way on all the key issues. The Eurozone is looking a lot like a Greater Germany.

  • Kris

    In recent history, a belligerent attitude towards Germany has not served France particularly well. And “Hollande” does not sound particularly Corsican.

    Eurydice, not quite. Much of the current crisis is due to a number of the other states wanting more from Germany than what it is obliged to give.

  • OJFL

    I still do not understand why the French are supporting François Hollande. His government plan doubles down on the same things that got Greece in trouble and that are causing the French economy to become so much uncompetitive with Germany. It makes little sense to me.

  • Eurydice

    @Kris – you have it backwards. The crisis happened first. It happened because of the inadequate structure of the EU which tied all the economies together without distinction. Weak countries could borrow at low rates they didn’t deserve so that strong countries could sell them products they couldn’t afford, and there was no overarching European political structure to manage this.

    Now everybody’s stuck with the bill. The debtors are unhappy that they have to pay their bills, and the creditors are unhappy that they’ll have to acknowledge their bad loans. If they want the Euro to stay together, every member will have to change the way they think, including Germany.

  • Kris

    Eurydice@10: You’re now saying that Euro-states will have to change the way they think as well as the very structure of the EU. Since that is not what Germany had initially agreed to, and since there are strong disagreements as to what those changes should be, “irreconcilable differences” seems a more appropriate description than “buyer’s remorse.”

    Is all I’m saying.

  • Kenny

    Impressive insight by Albert in post #5.

  • Snorri Godhi

    All this talk of Europe becoming a Greater Germany seems wide off the mark to me: it looks more like Germany is joining the Greater PIIGS.
    If pieces of paper could Germanize Europe, then the “Stability” and “Growth” Pact would have achieved the purpose a decade ago. Whatever new piece of paper the Germans come up with, is likely to be bypassed just as easily as the Greeks (and the Germans!) got around the “Stability” Pact.

    From this perspective, I am cautiously optimistic about Hollande: the sooner somebody calls Germany’s bluff, the sooner this scam is exposed.
    Plus, if France is going to have a socialist President, they might as well have one who is not ashamed to call himself a Socialist.

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: it pleases me that I was listening to Bach while writing the previous comment. Bach and Merkel are both associated with Leipzig. Maybe I’ll listen to Mendelssohn next.

  • Eurydice

    @Kris #11 – I’m not saying anything different than what I’ve said before. Regardless of how the EU may have been presented to the public, it was always intended to become a political union. It was part of the dream that Mitterrand and Kohl both had. And it was openly discussed at the many meetings I attended back before the Euro was launched. The idea was to launch the monetary union first and then force a political union once the countries became inextricably linked. This is what every country signed on to. The thing is that there’s nobody left who retains a commitment to the original dream.

  • Jim.


    If the will for a political union has collapsed

  • Jim.


    If the will for a political union has collapsed among the leaders, and it was never really there to begin with among the peoples, you can probably expect the laws to change to suit that new reality.

    There’s nothing less inevitable than a union no one wants.

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