Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Do not be mistaken, this is not about Homer or Greek mythology (thank you Agatha Christie’s ‘Lord Edgeware Dies’.) This regards the French presidential elections. The result was predictable. The French have chosen an understudy instead of the monarchial presidents who have ruled France since Charles de Gaulle set the tone. The choice was not about programs--almost irrelevant--but about elitism versus populism. Francois Hollande is a smart, intelligent personality. The same can be said of President Nicolas Sarkozy, but he had problems hiding an arrogance which often went too far, irritating foes and allies. The most important outcome of this election is the realization, unavoidable almost, that France in Europe is a country like any other, facing the same economical/social nightmare. One tends to forget how difficult it was for Francois Mitterand to swallow the pill of German reunification. He got the second role in the duumvirate with Germany but everybody knew who came first. The charade continued under Jacques Chirac and Sarkozy until the latter overplayed his role in the sands of North Africa where he ended up calling 911. Still he had some pertinent ideas regarding the EU and monetary affairs which were all dead upon arrival in Berlin. Angela Merkel is a hard nut to crack and the French were obliged to arrive at the conclusion that they were the dupes in this mariage de raison. Sarkozy was a mover and a shaker in the American way. The French found him tiresome in the end and returned to their more placid, speculative roots. Hollande will be pushed by his supporters into returning to a classical, predictable policy which will turn France again in a more provincial direction: anti-NATO, bygone economical and monetary policies, suspicious of globalization and taken hostage by the trade unions. Sarkozy had his hubris but he liberated France from the Chirac long sleep. We do not risk a repeat but we might get bored instead. Europe is a mess. The Commission has no audience. Some rather unpleasant reminiscences have made a comeback and states like Spain, the UK, Belgium and Italy are on life support in their present form. Even Germany might run into political problems. Other newcomers in the EU are frankly mafia states. Meanwhile the United States looks to the East and the Russian bear plays the hibernating game. Germany is envied and stands alone, like China almost, a lender with an attitude. The French, whom the Germans already consider as understudies, might as well abandon first-class and travel business with their peers. This de facto European disintegration might very well be accelerated as a result of the French elections. France was not Germany’s equal, but it could at least temper the over-orthodox policies of Berlin, and indirectly help the other Euro members. Austerity can be useful. It should not become an ultimatum. Sometimes some Keynesian input and a zest of inflation should be considered. The American monetary and economical pragmatism might in the end work better than a Calvinistic disciplinary approach. Sarkozy was unable to convince Angela Merkel to moderate her hard-line economics. She looks almost obsessed by the spectrum of the former German inflation plague. I doubt that Hollande can be more successful. On the contrary, he risks creating tensions in the G20 meeting in Mexico or in the near future in the NATO summit in Chicago. Of course it remains to be seen if he will opt for a “wait and see” attitude or for an early “big bang”. I believe he will be more cautious than aggressive, more tempted to co-lead a consensus rather than play a Gaullist empty chair game. Still, his intellectual luggage looks worn out and he is the hostage of an electorate which is fundamentally anti-globalization and chauvinistic. After a “president acrobat” we might end up with a “president in shackles”. Marine Le Pen from the rightist National Front became Mr. Hollande’s kingmaker by refusing to support President Sarkozy. She could as well crown the new so-called “President Normal” in Reims, renewing with the the slippery steps of King Charles VII and Joan of Arc. Ms. Le Pen is ultimately the victor by stealth. She has staying power and is free from Cartesian rules.

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