Saturday, 5 May 2012

Sarkozy and Hollande share the same fears

Wrecking-ball vs Normal man
Much of what has been written about tomorrow's election has focused on the idea that France is set to veer to the left if François Hollande wins or - much less likely - confirm its allegiance to right-of-centre politics if Nicolas Sarkozy is re-elected. And although that will effectively be the case in terms of the party political allegiance of the candidates, there is one overarching and fundamental theme which unites their manifestos, that of France's fear of the outside world.

One characteristic of these elections has been the anti-Sarkozy sentiment which is leading people not so much to support Hollande (Sarkozy is still considered to be a safer bet for the economy) but to rid the country of a leader who has imposed strict belt-tightening measures. 

This has been mirrored by election results across Europe since the economic crisis began to bite in 2009 which have seen governments of both left and right unseated or rejigged in Spain, Italy, Britain, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Denmark and Finland. In other words, many leaders who have had to bear the brunt of the crisis have gone, whatever their political colours, which means that elections have been more about hoping for change than an ideological shift. That is also the case in France today.

Rue89 has posted an article (in French, here) which points out that if Hollande wins it will in some ways be thanks to the crisis, which has left many people very worried about what's happening in the markets and with world finance in general. This is why he can count on the help of unlikely allies such as centrist voters and some disgruntled left-wingers who voted Le Pen in round one and not because the country is slipping to the left. 

Another failed candidate whose voters Hollande can count upon is Jean-Juc Mélenchon, the left-wing firebrand whose intense dislike of all things money and markets has not gone unnoticed by Hollande. Although not as far left as Mélenchon, Hollande has nevertheless developed policies which point the finger squarely at the rich, bankers, the markets and the European fiscal pact. In other words, his bogeymen and not so much to be found in France, but abroad, where globalised financial interests, he says, are threatening France and the French way of life.

Sarkozy, like Hollande, has also identified globalisation as a threat and has often expressed his wish to reform the markets and the banks and roll back what he sees are threats to France's national identity. In fact he even supports the idea of a Tobin Tax as long as he gets support from other heavyweight countries. Moreover, Bayrou, Mélenchon and Le Pen have all expressed similar views. At the same time though Sarkozy has found another scapegoat - immigration, which represents yet another foreign-based threat in his eyes. Hollande has been very reticent to venture onto this terrain, although a clue to his future policies was to be found in his refusal to say that he would substantially change the country's current approach to 'dealing' with illegal immigration.

In one way or another, all the major candidates in this election have expressed their disapproval of foreign phenomena, and this is why domestic issues have not received enough attention according to many voters, a sizeable number of whom are disappointed in politics and politicians in general. Voters are being asked to choose between candidates whose central themes are those of being besieged by either immigration, the Anglo-Saxon business model, or both.

This election is not about left and right, it is about fear. France is a country which is struggling to come to terms with major changes in the world, changes which it can do nothing about. And meanwhile, the issues which really matter to voters are being pushed onto the back-burner. For now.

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