Hollande faces challenges as int'l concern rises

Europe, US and China are disquieted by the departure of outgoing French president Sarkozy, victory of Socialist party leader.

May 13, 2012 03:58
3 minute read.

Hollande. (photo credit: © Reuters)


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PARIS – Europe is still worried after last Sunday’s victory of Socialist party leader François Hollande in the French presidential elections.

Not just Europe is disquieted about the departure of outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy, half of the Franco-German Sarkozy-Merkel partnership.The United States and China are too.

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For Washington, it is the loss of its close ally “Sarko the American,” as he was called in France. The Americans have been asking themselves: Will the new president be “pragmatic” or an “ideologue?” According to a diplomatic source in Paris, what makes both the White House and Berlin unhappy is Hollande’s wish to renegotiate the European Budgetary Pact in order to include in it a “growth element.”

Angela Merkel will have discussions with Hollande will meet with Angela Merkel on Tuesday, just after officially becoming president.

Five years ago, Sarkozy did the same: He flew to meet Merkel the same day he became president, and came back to the Elysée late at night. According to the press, the deal is not re-negotiable.

The two leaders had their first phone conversation this week after Hollande’s victory and until now have never talked face to face.

The German chancellor refused to meet him during the campaign.

She was a strong supporter of his opponent, who belongs to the same right-wing persuasion. She even intervened in his favor in the election. She was planning to come to one of his mass meeting, but in the end this was abandon by Sarkozy’s campaigners.

But some specialists here think that this “growth element” might finally find favor with the European leaders, since it is necessary as a complementary measure to the “austerity elements” that were imposed by Germany on Greece and other countries, and which those countries are finding nearly impossible to apply.

Another measure that might be accepted by the Europeans and by the Obama administration is the French government’s plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, as this is not contrary to the Pentagon’s own plans.

The most worried power, however, seems to be China, who will not appreciate Hollande’s insistence on human rights, an issue very important for the French Socialist Party and its allies in the new left-wing coalition. Two other issues wait for Hollande and Hu Jintao when they will meet in June at the G20 meeting in Mexico: that of the non-convertibility of the yuan and the lack of respect shown by Chinese enterprises toward environmental norms.

For the European leaders, everything will be on the table at their summit on June 28-29. In order for the newcomer to feel more at ease and for everyone to get to know him, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, has decided to organize an informal dinner in Brussels on May 23. This informal get-together is an extraordinary meeting that will mark the European ‘baptism of fire’ for François Hollande, who proposed during his campaign the relaunch of the debate on the necessity to make growth a priority in Europe.

“Of course it is only an informal dinner, but it must help us not to make the official June 28-29 summit one of just simple declarations. We must show that there is a way out of the crisis, and agree upon measures to relaunch the economic activity at the EU level,” a source close to the new president explained to the daily paper Libération.

According to the newspaper, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and British Prime Minister David Cameron, plus a dozen other European leaders, don’t agree with the political rigors imposed on Europe by Angela Merkel. Like Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, most of the leaders believe that growth needs more a competitive environment, a liberalization of the labor market and the creation of free-trade agreements with countries outside EU – proposals advanced by none other than Nicolas Sarkozy.

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