In the midst of an economic crisis that affects us all, France has chosen a new president.
François Hollande is to be part of finding the possible solution to a crisis that extends far beyond French borders. As a result there is every reason for a double set of congratulations, given the result of yesterday’s presidential election.
Congratulations to the French, who now have a president with different values and priorities than those that Nicolas Sarkozy had, or let himself be pressured into by the far right.
And congratulations to the rest of Europe, which can now expect different values and priorities than those that Sarkozy represented, or let himself be pressured into by his conservative colleagues – primarily Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The French presidential election was unusually European, not least because of the German chancellor’s support for Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande’s election was thus even more significant: It heralds a new economic direction in Europe – towards job creation and economic growth, rather than ‘Merkozy’s’ narrow focus on financial discipline.
François Hollande made it clear some time ago that with him as president, the European Stability and Growth Pact is to be renegotiated, or expanded with new elements that are more designed to prevent the crisis from developing from bad to worse – into a lengthy, economic depression.
The French election also had a European dimension due to the role played by the extreme right.
Almost all European countries are currently being challenged by anti-immigrant, nationalist parties that both centre-left and centre-right parties have difficulty in responding to.
The Front National in France received an ominously strong vote in the first round – almost a fifth of the votes cast – while the second round saw Nicolas Sarkozy willing to position his rhetoric, and possibly also his policies, to the far right in order to capture this vote.
But luckily, the tactics failed, and one can hope that Sarkozy has made a positive contribution to European politics by demonstrating that you cannot win an election by making immigrants into scapegoats for the deep economic problems that countries are currently experiencing.
François Hollande now has the problems, but by being elected he has already shown that change is possible.
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Translated by Julian Isherwood