The long-awaited fall of Nicolas Sarkozy and the election of Socialist (Labor) candidate Francois Hollande in France has created much anxiety and uncertainty amongst the European ruling class.
France is Europe’s second biggest economy and Sarkozy along with Germany’s Angela Merkel was a chief architect of the European wide “fiscal compact”. This compact is the European establishment’s solution to the debt crisis and will force governments to drastically cut expenditure to keep budget deficits at less than 3 per cent of GDP.
For France it means painful cuts to health, education and welfare at a time when the economy is slowing and unemployment is already at 10 per cent. Hollande criticised the compact, saying there needs to be a “growth pact”. Angela Merkel was so concerned she offered to campaign for Sarkozy and has repeatedly stated the compact is non-negotiable since the election.
Behind the compact is the argument the debt crisis was caused by “fiscal irresponsibility” of governments who pampered people with welfare—completely forgetting the massive bail out of the financial sector in 2008. But people across Europe and France reject this argument. In 2010 Sarkozy’s popularity dropped overnight and he provoked massive demonstrations after he increased the retirement age by two years.
Francois Hollande won the election by giving voice to this opposition.
A substantial minority went even further left and voted for the far left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who received 11 per cent of the vote. Melenchon campaigned against austerity; promised to restore the previous pension age; increase the minimum wage; introduce a 100 per cent tax rate for any earning over 360.000 Euro a year; and more.
Sarkozy’s fall makes him the eleventh European leader to bite the dust since the beginning of the debt crisis two years ago. But, while it’s good to see him go, it remains to be seen what Hollande will deliver.
On the economic front the Socialist Party—like Labor—are more concerned with managing capitalism responsibly than challenging its logic.
While Hollande talks about “growth” his plans are very mild and he has pledged to return the budget to surplus by 2017. He has already met with Angela Merkel to begin discussing how to reach a compromise on the “fiscal compact” and how to work to keep Greece in the Eurozone.
Even so the bond markets and big business in France will combine to put him under immense pressure to shelve any plans for state lead growth. The Wall Street Journal is already confidently predicting that “Hollande may try to stall or deny the inevitable, but France will one day have to swallow its bitter economic pill”.
HOLLANDE MADE enormous concessions to campaigns from the right—extremely dangerous in the context of a record 18 per cent high vote for the fascist candidate, Marine Le Pen of the National Front.
If Hollande disappoints, there is a real danger that the National Front will benefit. Sarkozy’s UMP is likely to implode following the crushing defeat.
Le Pen concealed her fascist roots and ran a nationalistic campaign against the “fiscal compact”. The National Front has grown thanks to disenchantment with the major parties and by posing fake solutions, like attacks on Muslims and immigrants, to problems hard-hit workers face, such as increasing unemployment.
Marine Le Pen’s vote is appalling confirmation that the repeated political concessions to her views by the French political establishment have fuelled the fascists.
Sarkozy’s Presidency was characterised by vicious scapegoating of the Roma, immigrants and Muslims. Police smashed up Roma camps and thousands were deported. Wearing of the burqa and niqab in public was outlawed; as was praying in the street. He also initiated a hysterical debate about role of Islam in France’s “secular” society.
The hysteria was ramped up during the election with attacks on immigrants and sensational claims that 700 mosques were ready to campaign for Hollande—part of the so called “Islamification” of France. During the election Sarkozy event went as far as saying, “I hold nothing against National Front voters. I say to them, I’ve heard you. The French don’t want to be dispossessed of their way of life.”
But Hollande shamefully pledged to maintain the ban on the burqa and niqab, maintain detention centres for illegal immigrants, and limit immigration.
If French politicians are determined not to learn anything from the killing spree of fascist Anders Behring Breivik, currently facing trial in Norway, it’s essential the left does. Leading the fight against austerity, not just in words but in deeds, will be central to marginalising Le Pen and providing a left alternative to Hollande. There also needs to be uncompromising opposition to Islamophobia that Sarkozy and other politicians have made mainstream. Exposing and confronting the National Front, too, will be important.