Thursday, 19 April 2012

Election red, white and blues

Image: John Bullar
Nicolas Sarkozy is the latest incumbent leader to face the music as the first round of voting for the next French president takes place on Sunday. The role of president in France is rather different to that of other European leaders. Since Charles de Gaulle ushered in the Fifth Republic at the height of the Algerian crisis in 1958, the president has far wider powers and relies far less on parliament than his peers elsewhere. Indeed, even the most hardened Francophile would be hard pressed to name the current Prime Minister (François Fillon, if you are interested). As a French colleague once said to me, “France is the only country in the world where, every five years, we vote for our king”.

However, the latest poll results do not make very happy reading for le petit Nicolas. Socialist rival François Hollande looks set to make it through to the second round and, if the opinion polls are to be believed, will comfortably beat M. Sarkozy. This is a candidate who is proposing a tax rate of 75% on earnings over €1m, who has promised to return the retirement age to 60, who refers to the world of finance as his “greatest adversary” and who is planning to “renegotiate” the hard fought EU fiscal compact. It is as if he is totally unaware of what has happened in other parts of Europe over the last three years or so, although no doubt the grim realities of Eurozone economics would reassert themselves fairly swiftly were he to be elected. Nevertheless, France’s credit rating – already downgraded from the much cherished AAA to AA by the rating agencies – could find itself under more pressure in the event of a Hollande victory.

Of as much concern to Euro watchers should be the wider picture presented by the pollsters. Voter apathy and disillusionment with existing parties is endemic – and not just in France as witnessed by the astonishing by-election victory of George Galloway in Bradford recently. In France, the right wing National Front party led by Marine Le Pen (daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Left Front are polling 16% and 14% respectively. In other words, 30% of the electorate feel so disenfranchised from the current system that they are prepared to support radical alternatives to the traditional ruling parties. This should be far more worrying to other politicians seeking re-election from an austerity weary population.

Rob Burgeman
Divisional Director

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