A New Chance for France

France’s brand new president, Francois Hollande, was sworn into office the morning of May 15 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Although the stormy weather had Hollande soaked head-to-toe after his inauguration ceremony, it seems that France’s spirits have not been dampened by the election. Having surpassed a 10 percent unemployment rate under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, it is not surprising that the country would veer aggressively to the left and favor the Socialist Party.

After all, when a right-wing, conservative president like Sarkozy (whose platform was based on increasing economic growth and job creation) fails to deliver and hikes up unemployment figures instead, the promise of a 75 percent income tax on all millionaires becomes incredibly enticing. I’m willing to bet that France would have supported any face of the Socialist Party after enduring all the scandals and unfulfilled promises of the UMP leader in the past five years, not just Hollande in particular. I wouldn’t say that Hollande is like the new Obama of France even if they share some progressive outlooks (regarding same-sex marriage and illegal immigration, for example) because he wasn’t really elected out of popularity. He was perceived sort of as France’s last hope of pulling out of this sluggish economic state.

One year ago, Francois Hollande was not a name in anyone’s mind. The Socialist Party was throwing its support behind Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund at the time. He was the real face of the Socialist Party, and had he not resigned and pulled out, I think he would have been elected president. It was very unfortunate that he messed it up by getting his name involved in a sex scandal last March because it left him with very little choice but to drop out. It was this incident that allowed Hollande to gain recognition, and soon the polls began to surge in his favor.

In addition, he became labelled as the anti-Sarkozy. In the French’s ears, it had a nice ring to it; there was a stigma attached to Sarkozy’s name and therefore something very appealing about a candidate who was the complete “opposite” of him. Sarkozy’s lack of popularity was not solely based upon his lack of economic improvement, but also an entire list of grievances of the French people. For one, his immigration policies were radical and viewed as unreasonable because he was determined to stagnate immigration into France, and continually deported Roma gypsies living in the country. In addition, he was accused of nepotism for trying to get his son to lead France’s largest business district. He also managed to isolate the small but sturdy Muslim population in his country with his seemingly anti-Islamic policies. He outlawed the donning of the veil for pious Muslim women and even banned a group of Muslim clerics from entering France. Obviously, there were many problems instigated by President Sarkozy besides not living up to his primary goals that made him so unpopular throughout his career in the past five years and made Francois Hollande’s promises seem much more genuine.

Hollande’s platform, one that certainly is representative of socialist values, is not only limited to heavily taxing the rich and creating jobs but also to reduce national debt (which has not been done in over 30 years), push for gay marriage and adoptions, lower the retirement age, and hire 60,000 new teachers. He is not necessarily going to be as pro-American or pro-Israeli as Sarkozy was, but French foreign policy will remain much the same. Here’s to hoping that President Hollande, even if he was not the first choice candidate in the running, can still fulfill his promises of aiding France’s recovery and set precedents for his Socialist Party, which has not been the leading political party for 17 years.

Seema Wadhwani is a second-year biological sciences major and can be reached at wadhwans@uci.edu.