In the run up to this month's elections, the thesis that globalization is more of a threat than an opportunity has made a comeback in French politics. This is surprising given that the country is highly dependent on the global economy and has benefitted from it more than most.
France's economic floundering has many citizens worried that their children will not have the same opportunities as they did. Unfortunately, neither Sarkozy nor Hollande are offering any reassurances.
In the first round of voting for the French presidency, fringe candidates are expected to win an inflated share of the votes. Meanwhile, the campaigns of the two real contenders -- Sarkozy and Hollande -- are doing little more than limping along. Unfortunately, absurdist theater doesn't make for good politics.
Hollande is committed to preserving some of the key achievements of the Mitterrand years. And since the French left is going into the June legislative elections with strong, if not overwhelming, advantages, he will be able to do so.
Far from an improbable, uncharismatic president, Francois Hollande has been working quietly for decades as the bearer of a clear -- if utopian -- vision shared by many Europeans. He has studied the failures of the Fifth Republic's only other socialist leader, François Mitterrand, and is determined not to repeat his mistakes.
The socialist on the stump. (Jacky Naegelen / Courtesy Reuters)
Earlier this month, for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, the incumbent failed to take the lead in the first round of a French presidential election. Now, before the second round, scheduled for Sunday, surveys indicate that President Nicolas Sarkozy will be beaten handily by François Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate. So handily, in fact, that the French press has already moved on to speculating about the legislative elections that will take place in June.
Chances are that the outcome in June will be determined by the same issues that dominated the first round of voting in the presidential election, which have dominated the second round as well. So it is telling that the far-right National Front, headed by Marine Le Pen, doubled its vote share in the first round compared with 2007. And much of the increase came from voters who had picked Sarkozy last time, according to estimates from exit polls. That arithmetic helped Hollande, a lower-profile figure who was a member of the group of Socialists nurtured by François Mitterrand during his long presidency, nose ahead in the race.
The National Front surge has effectively set the political agenda for the coming months, and the party will influence the priorities of whatever government comes next. Indeed, French populism is in vogue once again. Each of the four major candidates has run a nationalist campaign, although of slightly different varieties.
On the right, Nicolas Sarkozy has focused on immigration -- in particular, undocumented immigration, the vulnerability of French borders, and France's Muslim population. He has committed to "preserve our way of life," emphasizing the dangers of immigration. Le Pen has done the same, but with a greater emphasis on Euro-skepticism, more criticism of the euro, and a defense of the French welfare state.