France’s High Stakes Presidential Vote
France is preparing for a presidential vote that has potentially major consequences for the eurozone, European integration, and transatlantic relations. The two main contenders—incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy from the center-right Union for a Popular Movement and Francois Hollande of the center-left Socialist Party—are not expected to garner 50 percent of the vote on April 22, making a runoff round likely on May 6.
Opinion surveys have given Hollande a consistent edge, although the gap has been closing as the vote draws near. Many French voters are ready for a respite from Sarkozy, whom they view as having failed to improve economic conditions and as a mercurial and unpredictable leader. Unemployment stands at close to 10 percent, and growth is anemic. Earlier this year, the U.S.-based rating agency Standard and Poor’s stripped France of its AAA credit rating in a wave of downgrades, signaling that European states were not taking sufficient action to address systemic problems in the eurozone.
Nonetheless, Sarkozy has of late been making a comeback; he is a talented and energetic campaigner, especially in comparison with Hollande’s bland style. And, as across much of Europe, the fortunes of the right are being strengthened by fear about immigration and the socioeconomic intrusions of globalization.
In France, as in many other EU member states, there is considerably less ideological distance between the mainstream center-right and center-left parties than there is in the United States. Whereas Democrats and Republicans have become ideologically polarized since the Cold War’s end, mainstream European parties have tended to converge toward the center. Partly as a consequence, smaller, more extremist parties have been faring well. In France, Marine Le Pen on the hard right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the far left are threatening to drain votes from both Sarkozy and Hollande.
Reassessing French Role in NATO?
Despite the ideological convergence of the main parties, the outcome of the election is likely to have a significant impact on both foreign and domestic policy. Hollande has pledged to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012. (France currently has some 3,600 troops in Afghanistan.) His campaign has also hinted that he might reconsider Sarkozy’s 2007 decision to rejoin NATO’s integrated command structure, a move that was opposed by the Socialists.