France handed the presidency Sunday to leftist Francois Hollande, a champion of government stimulus programs who says the state should protect the downtrodden — a victory that could deal a death blow to the drive for austerity that has been the hallmark of Europe in recent years.
Mild and affable, the president-elect inherits a country deep in debt and divided over how to integrate immigrants while preserving its national identity. Markets will closely watch his initial moves as president.
He narrowly defeated the hard-driving, attention-getting Nicolas Sarkozy, an America-friendly leader who led the country through its worst economic troubles since World War II but whose policies and personality proved too bitter for many voters to swallow.
“Austerity can no longer be inevitable!” Hollande declared in his victory speech after a surprising campaign that saw him transform from an unremarkable figure to an increasingly statesmanlike one. He will take office no later than May 16.
Speaking to exuberant crowds, Hollande portrayed himself as a vehicle for change across Europe.
“In all the capitals … there are people who, thanks to us, are hoping, are looking to us, and want to finish with austerity,” he told supporters early Monday at Paris’ Place de la Bastille. “You are a movement lifting up everywhere in Europe, and perhaps the world.”
Germany said on Saturday it was prepared to promote growth in the eurozone, a wish dear to Francois Hollande, the front-running candidate in this weekend’s French presidential election.
“I am confident our two countries will initiate good solutions for Europe and our common currency,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Sunday newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
After the French election “we will quickly get to work on adding a growth pact to the budget treaty to promote competitivity”, Westerwelle said.
Hollande, who has campaigned against austerity calls championed by Germany, has said he intends to renegotiate a budget treaty approved by 25 of the European Union’s 27 member states in 2011, to put a greater emphasis on growth.
But Hollande spokesman Pierre Moscovici told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Saturday edition that no matter what the French Socialists did not want to provoke a crisis and that the Franco-German friendship remained essential.
“We know that Angela Merkel would prefer to see (incumbent) Nicolas Sarkozy win,” said Moscovici, who is a former European affairs minister.
But if Hollande wins “we want to show that nothing will shake the Franco-German friendship”, he said.
The dominant issue is a sense of loss – loss of population; loss of jobs; loss of small farms; loss of schools and post-offices; loss of local identity as the weed of suburban development spreads from larger towns.
Something similar can be seen in the 11 per cent vote for the Eurosceptic, anti-free trade, far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Although popular in the bohemian areas of large cities, Mr Mélenchon did best in the distressed working class and multi-racial suburbs of big towns and in devastated industrial and former industrial areas in the North.
In 2007, Nicolas Sarkzoy campaigned mostly as a new, modern, outward-looking and urban kind of leader. In 2012, especially since the high far right vote in the first round, he has campaigned as the man who will restore French frontiers, French pride and French identity.
François Hollande, the Socialist front-runner, has his political base in the rural South-west. He probably understands the broadband-non-broadband divide better than Mr Sarkozy. He insists he will help struggling areas by halting Mr Sarkozy’s cuts in public spending and adding growth policies to the all-austerity approach to the euro crisis.
Whichever candidate wins will not find it easy to “put together again” the Humpty Dumpty of a fractured France.
Sarkozy declares the Far-Right National Front “compatible” with French politics in Libération magazine.
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- Sarkozy rules out Front National ministers but chases far-right’s votes | RFI
- French left unites with sole aim of ousting Sarkozy | France 24
- Sarkozy, Hollande step up battle to woo French far right | AFP
- Sarkozy shifts, Hollande digs in on foreigner voting rights | France 24
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is courting the country’s far-right voters, following his second-place finish in Sunday’s first-round presidential elections.
Sarkozy received 27 percent of the vote, and was edged out by Socialist Francois Hollande with 28 percent.
But far-right candidate Marine Le Pen finished a surprising third with more than 18 percent, the best showing for the anti-immigrant National Front party.
Sarkozy said Monday that National Front voters must be respected. “They have made a choice. They have expressed a choice. It is a vote of suffering, of crisis, why insult them? I tell them that I have heard them,” he said. “I will take the consequences.”
Hollande says he will not seek out far-right voters. “I am not going to seek out voters from the extreme right, I will not try to seduce them. The far right has strong support at the moment and that is the fault of Nicolas Sarkozy,” he stated. “But some voters voted for the far right because they are angry [at Sarkozy]. They are the voters who I want to hear from.”
Watch more coverage: Le Pen voters become France’s kingmakers
The French people do not forget them… this is the flag of France and not the flag of Mr. Sarkozy.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is increasingly under fire for marching in lockstep with Germany even though southern Europe is paying significantly for Europe’s financial crisis.Prominent French leftists have accused EU leaders of “cowardice” as “Athens is burning” and even conservative politicians openly side with the Greek people.
“We are joking friends that Angela Merkel is our leader. Merkel unfairly blames the Greek people for their situation. Sarkozy pretends to resist her …, but we know that in the end he will do what she wants,” another protester said. (PressTV)