French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced in modest fashion on Wednesday, February 15th, that he was running for reelection. Lately, he has been keeping his intentions quiet, focusing instead on new reforms and carefully appearing unperturbed by the upcoming elections.
Despite lagging in polls, President Sarkozy could benefit from a new dynamic with the launching of his campaign. Many observers are starting to predict a face-off between M. Sarkozy and M. Hollande, who represents the Socialist Party and has been leading polls.
This face-off will be highly strategic. Sarkozy is looking to win back his many disenchanted supporters and to grab votes from supporters of Marine Le Pen (Front National). Marine Le Pen has forged a softer image for the party but the policies she advocates, including abandoning the Euro, are becoming more irrelevant as the crisis deepens.
Hollande’s goal will be to unite the Left while upholding his man-of-compromise reputation. He will have to lure anti-capitalists as well as greens to ensure victory. Until the first round, therefore, Hollande, who is considered a moderate inside the Socialist Party, will push for a left-leaning program.
Bayrou, a centrist and the fourth major candidate, lacks the character to be “présidentiable”. However, the way his votes will be shared between Hollande and Sarkozy may be decisive to the outcome of the election.
MM. Sarkozy and Hollande, as expected, will fight a battle of ideas, a battle of two opposing, very different personalities.
Hollande – or the “Normal President” as he likes to call himself – presents himself as the candidate for change. His program emphasizes social justice, education and future generations, and French industry. Most significantly, his economic policies make no mention of reducing public spending. He would rather encourage government jobs and curb the deficit by raising government revenues, for example through imposing higher taxes on the wealthy. Hollande has said that if he were to be elected, he would demand reviews on the European Union’s agreement concerning tightening deficits and debt levels. In a grandiose speech, he declared that his real opponent was “the World of Finance”.
President Sarkozy – the “Hyper-President”, who has yet to reveal an official program, will be pushing forward the budget-tightening measures that have been agreed upon with European decision-makers. He is hoping to represent a “strong France”, both domestically and internationally. He will make sure to chastise M. Hollande’s unrealistic economic policies and offer a more rational alternative.
Sarkozy’s main weakness is the legacy of his early presidency. He tired public opinion with his image and personal affairs and he disappointed many supporters by failing to deliver the wave of reforms he promised in his 2007 campaign. However, he faces the interesting task of offering a break from himself: having learned from his past mistakes, he is now careful to give a more wise and experienced image of himself. Whilst the crisis has put an indelible stain on his presidency, Sarkozy has been the one at the forefront of European and global talks in managing the financial crisis, and this could help him win the upcoming election. Unlike his opponents, he can boast close ties with global leaders, such as Angela Merkel of Germany and Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF. Moreover, Sarkozy can point to his foreign policy successes – such as in Libya. Hollande crucially lacks experience on that level.
In short, despite his failures, Sarkozy has all the assets of an incumbent president seeking reelection, and these assets might be particularly well perceived by the French electorate in a time of crisis.
There is a certain consensus among both candidates on what the country needs: solving the Euro crisis, fiscal responsibility, creating new jobs, and supporting innovation as well as domestic manufacturing. What MM. Hollande and Sarkozy offer are two different ways to achieve these goals, as well as two different styles of governance. Sarkozy is a changed man, but he remains a fierce campaigner. Hollande would make a dreadful mistake by underestimating his opponent’s chances. The French might then reelect their President, as they have done every time but once under the Fifth Republic.
– William Debost