François Hollande has become the newly elected president of France more by luck than by any quality he might possess. Almost anonymous, he has no ministerial experience. His platform nonetheless raised expectations mightily that he would be able to find employment and entitlements where Nicolas Sarkozy had failed to do so. Voters could conclude that there are jobs for all and everyone richer than them will pay more taxes. He likes to promise that France is not doomed to austerity, because he still believes that socialism is the magic formula for growth, and can simply be ordered up.
When originally elected, Sarkozy proposed what he called rupture, meaning reform of the centralized powers of the state so traditional in France. Nothing of the kind then took place. In the campaign for reelection, this habitually competitive and ambitious man found himself unable convincingly to claim credit for achievements. Outbursts of spleen made him seem to be reacting to the programs of rivals rather than promoting his own. Close on his heels was Marine Le Pen of the National Front, and he could not make up his mind whether to condemn her or to steal her thunder for the sake of obtaining her party’s votes. Amid mutual recriminations, the Right is now split between Sarkozy’s conservative party and the National Front. Add together the National Front and Jean-Luc Melenchon’s outright Bolshevik party, and the extremes of Right and Left have a third of the votes cast. That shift may well be the lasting legacy of this presidential election.
Poor and insincere as Sarkozy’s campaign was, in reality the Euro-crisis left him without a chance. No present head of government can hope to win an election in a Europe irrevocably tied to the single currency and the political structure erected in Brussels to enforce it. In the gathering climate of economic and political disaster, Sarkozy is the eleventh in a succession of office-holders in one nation after another to go down in electoral defeat.
Germany sets the terms for Europe, and François Hollande now has to discover whether Chancellor Angela Merkel, the architect of austerity, is willing to permit a forlorn attempt at socialist-induced growth. She had let it be known that she wanted the like-minded Sarkozy to win. But then she herself has already lost regional elections, and until and unless something changes with Brussels and the euro, she too is likely to join the lengthening list of rejected European office-holders.