By Kubra Turk
On May 6, 2012, with Francois Hollande, “the Socialists have reclaimed the presidency after seventeen years of drought,” at the same time, “Sarkozy was the first French incumbent to lose a bid for a second term since 1981” wrote Charles A. Kupchan from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Much of the support for Hollande came from voters who had tired of Sarkozy and wanted a change. In this respect, Hollande promised to repeal many of the austerity measures that Sarkozy imposed during his presidency.
Marie-Eve Malouines, the political editor for French Info radio, states that “In France we like our presidents tough. Francois Hollande thinks that now, because of the economic crisis, the French might want a different sort of leader. He thinks people want to pull together around a president who is kind.” Thus, Hollande, especially within the fiscal situation of France, has no easy task as the public spending of France as a share of GDP is the highest within the eurozone and its debt burden is already not promising. If the numbers become worse, the eurozone could witness another round of financial crisis.
Significantly, the issue of the fiscal pact is important to Hollande because Sarkozy and Merkel had collaborated before. However, the focus of Hollande is to renegotiate the European fiscal agreement to promote growth whereas Merkel seems uncomfortable to commit to such a negotiation: “The fiscal pact has been negotiated, it has been signed by twenty-five government leaders, and has already been ratified by Portugal and Greece. Parliaments all over Europe are about to pass it. Ireland has a referendum on it at the end of May. It cannot be negotiated anew.” This week, as Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor of the BBC states, the first meeting of Hollande with Angela Merkel will be interesting due to the higher probability of Merkel not allowing an opening for the renegotiation of her treasured pact enforcing discipline over budgets in the eurozone, however, Germany also cannot allow a split with France. Thus, “the expectation is for some kind of growth pact to be attached to the fiscal pact.”
For France, as a country that returned to the military wing of NATO and one of the contributing nations to ISAF, the issue of Afghanistan is important. This is because Sarkozy, in January 2012, declared that the French troops would be removed from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, which is a year earlier than the original withdrawal date of 2014. The desire of Hollande, during his campaign, was to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year, a full year earlier than Sarkozy’s date. At that point, whether this stand will constitute a problem between the relations of France and the U.S and NATO will be assessed in time, as Sarkozy was “in French context was at least a pro-American president” said James M. Lindsay in his analysis at the CFR.
Perhaps, the Obama administration might not like the earlier withdrawal of France from Afghanistan. However, Hollande would have backing from the U.S. in terms of his EU approach to the financial crisis which concentrates on stimulus instead of just austerity. In return, a policy of Hollande to press Germany might gather support from many of the other EU member states who are struggling with broad budget cuts, such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.