Rhea Tabbara digs into the upcoming French Elections in April

“We never officially left each other. So it’s quite logical that we meet again.” Those were Francois Hollande’s words in December 2004, with regards to his political counterpart at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy; the former headed the Socialist Party (PS) and the latter acted as general secretary of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Today, Hollande and Sarkozy the current President of France, “meet again” in the background of France’s Presidential Elections, the outcome of which shall be delivered on April 20th at midnight, with a run-off happening on May 6th if necessary.

Faced with a growing debt and a strong anti-incumbent sentiment, Sarkozy's re-election bid has a lot of work ahead of itself

Hollande, for a long time, struggled to maintain his position at the head of the PS as he was outstripped by his long-time partner, Segolene Royale in 2007, followed by the disgraced former head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK). However, he has eventually proven himself as a candidate who has been at the right place at the right time. Firstly, the arrest of DSK, paved the way towards the leadership of the Socialist Party, as he defeated Martine Aubry in October 2011. Secondly, just recently with France’s credit downgrade by the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) from its AAA standard, branding “Sarko” as “President de la Degradation” and placing Hollande several points ahead of his adversary in the polls.

However, Hollande’s campaign remains flawed in many ways. As a socialist, his plan consists of raising taxes on corporations, banks and the relatively wealthy in order to reduce France’s €1.7 trillion deficit (around 5% GDP). His conception of the wealthy consists of all individuals owning more than €150,000 – considered middle-class for most Western nations- for whom he aims to raise income tax from 40% to 45% of their revenue.

From there, he aims on creating more jobs and giving more opportunities for the youth, promoting industry and reducing the retirement age by two to 60 years. The issue here, as many economists have noted, is that the plan comprises too many taxes, not enough savings and that reducing the deficit depends too much on the state of France’s economic growth.

Furthermore, the candidate himself is rather flawed. Lately calling his opponent “un sale mec” or a “shady guy”, he lacks an essential quality French politicians have been long renowned for: eloquence. Then again, Sarko – who hasn’t officially declared himself as a candidate – is not one who has been famously known for the beauty of his words. Caught many times throwing insults at displeased publics, this has greatly tarnished his leadership and fragile public persona. Indeed the French, whether public eye or political scene, have always mocked Sarko as an “arriviste” or “newcomer”, the politician who didn’t go to the elite schools and who didn’t come from the same upper class background as most high political figures. Indeed the aforementioned can be reflected in his choice of cabinet throughout the years, choosing ministers and advisors with self-made backgrounds rather than privileged ones such as Rachida Dati.

After having been nicknamed for many years President “bling bling”, Sarko has been made the scapegoat for France’s downgrading, high unemployment rate and growing deficit. In this election, convincing the French electorate of his ability to fix the situation will prove itself a more daunting task than at the last election. The French will either reject any similarities to his previous plan or will question any of the candidate’s new initiatives.

Sarko’s record in terms of foreign policy perhaps speaks more for itself. His “love” for the US, as the press has many times coined it, is a complete variation from Chirac and all previous French Presidents’ Gaullist attitude, however the extension of his affection to America has not been entirely reciprocated by President Obama in the five years of his tenure.

Furthermore, France, who for many years sided with the Arab nations (many of which it had colonised) has adopted a more condemning tone towards the latter under Sarko, as has been seen with Libya, Syria, etc. In Europe Sarko has sought to increase France’s influence through EU leadership and a special partnership with Germany; a relationship which has revealed itself uneasy at times but overall key to France’s strength on an international level.

Hollande has revealed his objectives for France in an international sphere by embracing a similar path to his rival. The latter has already attempted to see his name inscribed in America’s “good-books” by recently quoting the US President’s State of the Union speech, claiming: “Obama said he wants the secretary of a billionaire to not have to pay more than the billionaire” in taxes. “I want the same thing.”

Moreover, both candidates have taken on a very American approach with regards to Afghanistan, stressing troop withdrawal a year prior to the date originally set at 2014 by NATO.

The left has not held a presidency since Mitterand stepped down 17 years ago, hence, with Sarko’s loss of popularity, they see these elections as their chance to finally get back into power. Sarko on the other hand has claimed that if he loses these elections he shall be bidding farewell to the sphere of politics.

Overall, the outcome of the French elections entirely depends on what the French want from their president: reform or good administration?

If change is what the French wish to see, Hollande should be their vote. On the other hand, if they prize leadership above all, Sarkozy, whose self-assuredness is much stronger than Hollande’s, would deliver a stronger sense of continuity to French leadership without struggling with the troubles that come with political transition.

Will it be Hollande or Sarkozy? Rendez-vous April 20th.

 

Rhea Tabbara

Image Credit- European People’s Party