Europe, U.S. ready themselves for Socialist Hollande to win French presidency

WASHINGTON — “In Germany and other European countries, we’re bracing ourselves for [Socialist] Francois Hollande to win the French presidency — and we’re not happy about it, believe me.  From what he is promising — especially about ‘renegotiating’ the European Union’s fiscal compact — Hollande as president would send shock waves through much of Europe.”

That’s what a German told Human Events Friday during a break from the International Monetary Fund/World Bank meeting in Washington.  Like many here, he was talking about the first round of elections for President of France to be held on Sunday.  A just-completed Ipsos poll showed that among likely voters, 29 percent favored Hollande, 25.5 percent favored embattled center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy, 16 percent for anti-immigration hard-liner Marine LePen, 14.5 per cent for Jean-Luc Melenchon (candidate of the far-left, including the Communist Party), and 10 percent for centrist Francois Bayrou.

Under French election rules, the top two vote-receivers will meet in a run-off May 6.  The same Ipsos Poll showed that in such a contest, the 57-year-old Hollande would defeat Sarkozy by a handsome margin of 56-to-44 percent — making Hollande the first Socialist to win the presidency since President Francois Mitterand was re-elected in 1988, and Sarkozy only the second President in France’s 53-year-old Fifth Republic to be unseated.

In terms of economic policy, Hollande would play rougher with corporations and higher-income earners than Barack Obama or any other left-of-center world leader. He has called for a 75 percent marginal tax on incomes above one million euros a year and a new 45 percent tax rate for those earning more than 150,000 euros ($195,000) a year.  Also under an Hollande regime, BusinessWeek recently noted, “[c]orporate France would end up paying an extra 23.8 billion ($31.3 billion) in taxes.”

Although he pledges to eliminate France’s deficit by 2017 (a year before Sarkozy pledges to do this), Hollande also says he will hire 60,000 new public school teachers and take the retirement age from 62 (a Sarkozy achievement) back to 60.  The Institut de l’entreprise think tank put the price tag on the Socialist spending package at between 26 and 29 billion euros.

Hollande where he is because of DSK

Based on his campaign speeches and manifesto, a “President Hollande” would indeed represent a radical departure from Sarkozy, a reliable ally of the U.S. and familiar fixture to other European leaders.  The Socialist hopeful has vowed to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan a year earlier than Sarkozy has, and has argued for a dramatic change in how the European Central Bank does business in economically turbulent Europe.

“We would not be in the situation we are in if the ECB, from the beginning of the Greek affair, had intervened massively to buy sovereign debt or underwrite state lending to different countries,” Hollande said.

The front-runner’s call for renegotiation of the EU’s fiscal compact — very possibly, allowing greater flexibility in terms of the deficit EU nations are permitted as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product — is most puzzling.  Any renegotiation would have to involve German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Premier Mario Monti.  Both of whom have refused to meet with Candidate Hollande and signaled clearly they want Sarkozy to stay in his job.

One of the worst-kept secrets in the international community is how much Washington wanted Sarkozy to be re-elected.  Sources told Human Events that Hollande very much wanted an appointment with President Obama.  The White House countered with an offer of a session with his national security adviser and a promise that Obama himself would drop by and say hello to the Frenchman.  That was reportedly not enough for Hollande, who thereupon decided not to come to Washington at all.

To call Francois Hollande’s present status a freak of nature is neither hyperbole nor insulting.  At the IMF/World Bank meeting a year ago, all eyes were on then-IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss Kahn as the near-certain Socialist nominee for president of France and likely victor.  Then the world watched on May 15 as he was arrested for alleged assault of a maid in a New York hotel. The man known as “DSK” was thus out of the race.  Enter Hollande, who was his party’s general secretary (chairman) for ten years and never held a Cabinet ministry.

Most of the world outside France knows little about him.  But if polls are right, Hollande will soon be quite known — as a symbol of old-line leftism, dusted off for the 21st Century.