François Hollande – no more 'Mr. Pudding'?
Style – more than policy differences on austerity – separated Socialist winner François Hollande from Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential elections. France may have simply preferred Hollande, dubbed 'Mr. Pudding,' over bombastic Sarkozy. But Hollande may not be so soft.
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In the fierce presidential debate of April 27, Mr. Hollande came off as anything but Mr. Flanby. Pugilistic to the point of carrying to extremes his constant interruptions of Sarkozy, he officially wound up in a draw, but in the opinion of this spectator, he seemed to have gained the upper hand by the end of their exchanges: In his incantatory recital of what he would do in various areas as president, Hollande reached a level of lyricism that the more tactical Sarkozy could not, or at any rate did not, match.Skip to next paragraph
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Sarkozy and the Americans
The fact that Sarkozy came before the US Congress and stated, “I want to be your friend,” and that he brought France back into the integrated command of NATO, gave him a pass with the American political class that could not be touched.
This had come after decades of reservation and distrust (interspersed with moments of solidarity, it is true) among the two “oldest allies”: from Charles de Gaulle’s revenge for his rejection by Franklin Roosevelt during World War II; to François Mitterrand’s reserve about American capitalism; to Jacques Chirac’s breaking ranks over George W. Bush’s preventive war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Is this “era of good feeling” between France and the United States now going to end? No. François Hollande is a very centrist leftist, a social democrat, and not a Marxist. A graduate of France’s elite schools (of which Sarkozy, trained as a lawyer, is not) Hollande has, I suspect, a formidable capacity to adapt and compromise.
The moment is a bit like that when the last Socialist president, Mr. Mitterrand, took power in 1981(and the mimicry practiced by Hollande with regard to his illustrious predecessor has been widely noticed). At the outset of his presidency, Mitterrand wanted to reassure the US, and he sent emissaries to Washington to do just that.
At the same time, we can expect a certain tacking on the part of the new Hollande regime toward traditional French values – in particular that of a certain distrust toward “liberalism” (which, in the European sense, means laissez-faire capitalism). On foreign policy, we can expect small changes: a year earlier withdrawal from Afghanistan (at the end this year instead of the close of 2013) but not much else.