Regime change in a democracy is always a delightful moment. The cruelty and swiftness with which voters cast their ballots is a reminder of the fact that despite the corruption, filth, and unscrupulousness that exist in a functioning democracy, democracy is nonetheless an exceptional method of keeping resources that belong to the masses out of the hands of the few.
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In France, where the role of President still holds a smidgen of kingliness, removal from office is that much more cruel and impressive. Only a moment ago, Sarkozy was omnipotent, but following the swift decision of millions of voters, he is packing up his suits and leaving the palace. Francois Hollande’s impressive victory will bring about significant changes in a variety of areas. In the initial weeks and months of Hollande’s presidency, we must focus our attention on three of them.
The economy: Experts agree that Sarkozy lost the election, and Hollande’s victory was the result of his presence as “the other guy.” At the same time, however, Hollande made one promise that essentially won him the presidency: 75% tax. The socialist candidate made his disdain for the rich clear at the start of the campaign; however two months before election day, he outdid himself, and made a concrete claim: 75% tax for those who earn over one million euros a year. Hollande was met with heated anger from right-wingers for this claim, but he did not back down.
Hollande’s proposed claim is in sharp contrast to Sarkozy’s policy, as one of the latter’s first moves as president was to pass the “Financial Shield” legislation, preventing the rich from paying more than 50% in taxes. It is left to be seen how exactly Hollande will implement the promise that led to his victory - Hollande enjoyed the support of many left-wing extremists, who are waiting with bated breath.
Style: Character is nevertheless important, and while drastic economic and policy changes are expected, one must not forget that Hollande was elected and Sarkozy lost because of style as well. The extrovert “bling-bling” president, unabashed friend to the rich, was kicked out of Élysée because of his extravagantly nonpresidential behavior. The French are willing to let their president get away with much, but they want some semblance of respectability and esteem that Sarkozy did not think to give them.
This does not mean that the youthful presidential trend will end with Sarkozy.
Hollande is entering a different Élysée than the one Sarkozy found. If Hollande acts wisely, he will be able to remain largely accessible but still keep his distance from the public, as the French people seem to prefer. Despite his dull appearance, it is important to remember that Hollande brings as tangled a personal life to Élysée as Sarkozy did. Hollande officially separated from Ségolène Royal, mother of his four children, before her failed presidential campaign five years ago.
Royal, the failed presidential candidate of 2007, is still considered one of the leaders of the socialist party, and a leading candidate for the presidency of the National Assembly of France, should the left win next month’s parliamentary elections. On Sunday night, Royal sat in a television studio, shining as always, watching with glazed eyes as her son led his father’s campaign staff. That son, Thomas Hollande, is already perceived as a central figure among his father’s entourage, and could earn an official position in Élysée – a practice not uncommon in France.
The role of first lady will be held by Valérie Trierweiler, the former political journalist who became Hollande’s partner a few years ago. Even without Carla Bruni, life in Élysée will not be boring.
Foreign policy: During his first speech as president, in Tulle’s Cathedral Square, Hollande mentioned only one other foreign power – Germany. This first official visit outside of France will be to Germany, despite the fact that that Chancellor Merkel demonstrably supported his rival, Sarkozy. However, in order to save the European Union, Merkel and Hollande will be forced to work together, despite fundamental differences in their opinions, (he is in favor of spending more, and she is in favor of cutting back). Public friction between the two could bring about the collapse of the European bloc. The worrisome achievements of the far-right in Greece, and the strong far-right base in France, which owns roughly 20% of the vote, make clear just how much European unification should not be taken for granted during times of crisis.
With such an inheritance, it is fairly obvious that Hollande will not be free to deal with issues of foreign policy outside of European Union borders. However that does not mean that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be satisfied. Even though the last year saw a significant decline in the close relations between Netanahyu and Sarkozy, the Prime Minister is losing a close ally in the international arena - an ally that demonstrably changed French foreign policy concerning Syria and Libya.
Following the departure of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Netanyahu will not find a man hostile toward Israel at Élysée, but rather a socialist with fundamental reservations concerning the Israeli right and West Bank settlement policy. It is already possible to predict that the tone of the French Foreign Ministry denunciation messages will become more severe, at least concerning these issues.
It remains to be seen who Hollande will name has his foreign minister, but it is likely that the Israeli-French honeymoon enjoyed by Sarkozy and Netanyahu is over. Will Hollande go so far as to invite the leader of the Israeli Labor Party to a meeting in France during the election campaigns? We must wait and see.
In terms of the most significant issue on the international agenda, Iran’s nuclear reactor, it is safe to assume that in the meantime, the current state of intransigence will continue. At the same time, if the Iranians propose a partial agreement to Western powers in the upcoming nuclear talks, it will be interesting to see if France will continue to hold a hard- right position on the demand that the Islamic Republic cease enriching uranium.