France: way to
marked by crisis
Sergio A. Gómez
THE principal forces in France are
involved in a tough fight for the presidency of the
country, marked by social malaise produced by
economic stagnation, growing public debt and the
highest unemployment rate in 12 years.
Between April 22 (first round) and
May 6 (second round), the French electorate will
vote for the next occupant of the Élysée Place, the
person who will control the nation’s destiny for the
next five years in the midst of one of the worst
postwar economic and social crises.
Opinion polls predict a fierce
battle between François Hollande, the socialist
candidate and current favorite, with 31.5% of voting
intentions, and President Nicolas Sarkozy, with 26%
support for the first round. In a possible second
round, Hollande would assume the leadership of
France by a margin of up to 15% against Sarkozy,
according to the latest opinion poll from the TNS
Sofres statistics office.
At 56 years of age, the current
President is staking his all as the candidate of the
Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). He has even
stated that he will leave politics if he loses the
election; in the case of winning, he will do so at
the end of his second five-year term.
The panorama is not very a
encouraging one for Sarkozy, who has suffered heavy
blows such as France’s demotion in Standard and
Poor’s credit rating, against which he fought to the
During the second half of his
government, the French began to feel the effects of
the Eurozone crisis more strongly, the economy
entered into a stage of stagnation and the sovereign
debt rose to close to 90% of the Gross Domestic
Product. The unemployment rate has also increased by
close to two percentage points in the last five
years, leaving a current figure of almost three
million persons without work.
Sarkozy would be handing over a
country in a worse condition than when he assumed
power in 2007, and the electorate is aware of this.
Recent actions taken by the
executive to confront the crisis have damaged the
popularity of the UMP leader even more, particularly
the increase in value added tax (VAT), rejected by
close to 57% of the population, according to Le
Monde; as well as the reduction in employers’
social security contributions, while cuts are being
forced on workers.
This panorama offers the possibility
– not assured – of socialism’s return to power after
close to 20 years in opposition. François Hollande,
aged 57 years, easily won his party’s primaries and
is now headed for the Élysée Palace.
The French press calls him "Mister
Normal," because his personality contrasts with the
disordered and hyperactive Sarkozy. Many people
associate Hollande with one of the great figures of
French socialism, François Mitterrand, who came to
power in 1981 with the slogan "tranquil strength."
The current candidate has appropriated these ideas
and proposes serenity, strength and union.
At the end of January he launched
his project of 60 commitments for France, which
includes tax reforms, a plan to strengthen small and
medium businesses, and measures to restrict the
power of the banks, a sector which he views as his
In spite of favoritism for the
Socialist Party and UMP, analysts are not
discounting the possibilities of Marine Le Pen, the
extreme-right Front National (FN) candidate,
currently placing third in voting intentions and in
Le Pen’s photogenic smile and clean
language has improved the image of the party founded
by her father, Jean Marie, but without varying his
xenophobic and ultranationalist ideas, combined with
a supposed attack on the rich.
The FN’s rallying has sounded all
the alarms, as according to a TNS Sofres opinion
poll, close to one third of French citizens share
the extremist concepts of the extreme right, whose
members propose leaving the Eurozone and restoring
national currency, dismantling the current European
integration system and systematically expelling all
foreign workers from the country.
Whether or not this movement has a
real possibility of winning power, its growing
influence within national politics is cause for
concern. This has become apparent in positions taken
by the current government, particularly in relation
to immigration, designed to attract people away from
A lot is at stake. The future leader
of the Eurozone’s second economy not only has the
complex challenge of overcoming the national crisis,
but also of sustaining a faltering and embattled
European Union, light years away from the
integrationist model upon which it was founded and
whose future remains in the air.