Francois Hollande’s stunning victory in the French presidential elections turns European politics upside down. The fact that he has never ever met German chancellor Angela Merkel or that British prime minister David Cameron refused to meet ‘socialist’ candidate Hollande when he crossed the Channel and went over to London to say ‘hello’, suggests a lot. A ‘socialist’ wave is sweeping over Europe — Hollande is leading the 11th ‘regime change’.
It is improbable that the German-French axis is going to remain intact. “Austerity is not an inevitability” — these words are from FH’s first speech after he won the election. Most commentators have framed FH’s victory as a challenge to the European Union’s compact on strict budgetary discipline, which carries Germany’s imprimatur. (By the way, on Sunday, Greece also voted for change in the EU’s bailout terms.)
But the fact is also that FH’s has little room for manoeuvering. Besides, how ‘socialist’ FH is in office remains to be seen. True, he famously said, “my opponent is the world of finance”; or, “I don’t like the rich.” But then, remember Tony Blair who was also ‘centre-left’ when he aspired for prime ministership?
FH narrowly won. And he got a lot of protest votes. Sarkozy was widely loathed by large sections of French people for a variety of reasons, and the poll turned out to be a referendum on his political personality than about FH’s economic agenda. Sarkozy’s combative style and aggression put off the French but even then nearly half of France voted for him.
Surely, FH would know that, too. FH is an experienced and shrewd politician who cashed in on the national ‘mood’ with some astute grandstanding. To cap it, he is blessed with a complete lack of track record as a public official at the national level. The point is, we know more about his love life than about his politics.
The big question is what is there in it for India? The Euro zone crisis no doubt impacts us. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee listed out the fault lines just 3 days ago — Europe’s lower growth, falling business sentiments, declining capital flows, and exchange rate and stock market volatility with attendant implication for investor confidence. The reshaping of the debate over the Euro zone crisis will be keenly watched in North Block.
There is a political moral here, too — the political cost of pursuing economic policies that cater to the rich. (One of FH’s major election pledges is to hike taxes on the rich and on companies that distribute profit to shareholders instead of ploughing it into investment.)
It can be safely said that he won’t be half as messianic about Syria as Sarkozy has been. France’s alliance with the United States (and NATO) is going to loosen. FH favors fast-tracking the withdrawal of the French contingent in Afghanistan within the year. He also calls for early settlement of the Palestine problem.
But, his foreign policy agenda remains a big unknown as of now. India may have to mothball the grandiose visions of strategic partnership with France. FH is highly unlikely to be interested in a muscular foreign policy or military adventures as in Libya. On the other hand, India can draw comfort that FH is enthusiastic about the enlargement of the UN Security Council.
Let us pray that no Sarkozy-era skeletons tumble out of the cupboard in the Elysee Palace relating to France’s arms deals with India. Anything is possible, if there is an iota of truth in the recent disclosures by a former Libyan prime minister that Moammar Gadhafi had financed Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.
– May 7, 2012