Nicolas Sarkozy has a lot in common with Napoleon: He’s short, he likes pretty women, and he is a successful war leader (ask Qaddafi’s ghost). He lacks refined tastes and he continually rubs France’s establishment the wrong way. In his European economic policy he is also facing his Waterloo at the hands of an uneasy alliance of Germans and Brits. From an American point of view this is too bad, since he has been the least anti-American French leader since the Marquis de Lafayette.
After Napoleon’s downfall he was replaced by the “legitimate” king, Louis XVIII. The man who had been known as the Corsican usurper was gone, and the Bourbon dynasty was back. In 2012, France’s powerful establishment hopes to see the political demise of the man it considers the “Hungarian usurper” and his replacement by Francois Hollande, who, in the context of modern French politics, represents a “safe pair of hands.”
Hollande is a middle-of-the-road, exceptionally loyal, and uninspiring French Socialist. One might almost say that he is France’s answer to Mitt Romney. While he promises to create lots more government-subsidized jobs and to moderately pursue left-wing goals, on the most critical issue of the day, the future of the euro and the bailouts for Greece and for French banks, he is not all that different from Sarkozy.
Some of his fellow Socialists, notably Arnaud de Montebourg and his followers, are in favor of nationalizing the French banks in order to save them from the consequences of a Greek default. This is an interesting proposal, first because the French banks are already as responsive to French-government guidance as it is possible to be and still be considered a bank. Second, because the Enron-like accounting contortions that the French banks, nationalized or not, will go through in order to maintain the illusion of solvency are going to be more entertaining than anything from the Moulin Rouge.
At least for the moment, Hollande is promising that over five years he will create 60,000 new jobs in France’s national education system. He’s not sure how to pay for it, but one thing is almost certain: Every Frenchman who gets one of these new jobs will be paying dues to a Socialist-friendly union.
One interesting thing about Hollande is the fact that his ex-wife, Segolene Royal, was Sarkozy’s opponent in the last French presidential election in 2007. Hollande is now unmarried (he has a “companion”). The break-up was fairly amicable, and “Sego,” as she was known, has endorsed her ex-husband and is planning to run as a Socialist for a seat in Parliament.
Right now Hollande looks like a winner, but even with polls that show him getting 60 percent of the vote in a run-off election against Sarkozy, he cannot take his victory for granted. Sarko is no pushover, and while he is deeply unpopular with France’s elites, his unpopularity with the bulk of the voters has more to do with the bad economy than with his aggressive personal style. If Hollande just looks to the voters like a better mannered version of Sarkozy, the French may decide to keep the colorful character they have instead of electing the candidate of the restoration.
Realistically, Sarko’s chances are not too good, but as they say, a week is a long time in politics.
— Taylor Dinerman is senior editor at the Hudson New York Briefing Council.