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Opinion

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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On Israel, Sarkozy broke with the outdated Gaullist vulgate, strengthening ties. The Socialist Party has historically been a friend of Israel, though few in France (and elsewhere in Europe for that matter) can countenance the bellicose rhetoric of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak.

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Hollande goes to Germany

Hollande’s immediate problem will not be with the US but with Germany – his first foreign destination as president. He has promised to renegotiate a European Union treaty mandating deficit and debt limits. He wants to inject more growth into the pact, but the likely result will be a separate add-on of measures (whose effectiveness remains to be seen), rather than a change in the pact itself (which German Chancellor Angela Merkel firmly opposes).

If truth be told, though Ms. Merkel and Sarkozy worked well together, the personal incompatibility between the hyperactive French president and the phlegmatic German chancellor was always there.

Unfortunately for Hollande, he will be forced to heed the strict economic and fiscal realities imposed by the markets, somewhat reminiscent of the about face Mitterrand performed nearly 30 years ago, when after an initial period of public spending and nationalizations, he was compelled a return to a policy of financial “rigor.”  

In conceding the election, Sarkozy asked his supporters to “respect” the new president, and then wished him good luck “amid the challenges.” Indeed, the challenges remain. In Hollande, the French have a kinder, gentler president, who is unlikely to chart a dramatic new course. Whether that will make the challenges any more bearable to the people of France – or their new president – remains to be seen.

Charles Cogan had a 37-year career with the CIA, culminating in Paris as chief, 1984-1989. He is an associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is the author of “French Negotioating Behavior: Dealing with ‘la Grande Nation’” (United States Institute of Peace Press, 2003).

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