Last night the French voted François Hollande of the Socialist Party into power. Incumbent candidate Nicolas Sarkozy will finish up his last few weeks in office before the shift takes place sometime, we imagine, this summer.
Unlike in the States, a specified timeline for the evacuation of one President and the installation of another is not prescribed. The incoming President, from what I gather, can decide when s/he wants make the transition. Last night, Hollande spokesperson said that his camp was “in no hurry.”
I understand why! France is in a bit of pickle lately – economically, socially, within Europe, apropos de the future prospects of the country. To be fair, outgoing Sarkozy did his best given the calamities that pledged his Presidency. His ideology is fiscal and social conservatism. Within that framework, he tried to stimulate the economy, to reassure citizens of their national and personal security, and to ward off economic collapse within Europe.
For the most part, I think the French wanted a change. It’s as simple as that. Thinking their prospects are worse off now than when Sarkozy took office five years ago, a slight majority of French people decided that another approach might just do the trick and push us back onto the road toward productivity. And Hollande has a few promising ideas.
We shall see.
What we can be sure of is the job Hollande has been elected to accomplish is not a simple task. The world is ever-increasingly smaller and more aggressive. Enterprises are looking for tax shelters, workers want improved rights and privileges, investors are weary of government overspending and debt. Europe is traversing a period of unparalleled financial crisis. It’s not going to be easy regardless of whether the propositions come from the left or the right.
Last night in his acceptance speech given in the city of Tulle in Hollande’s home region accompanied by an accordion playing Franco-French ballads, Holland made a number of promises directed at improving the lives ordinary citizens. He spoke of uniting France rather than dividing it, bringing social justice back into the heart of the country. Hollande promised a “normal” presidency in which he will concentrate on “justice and youth.”
Sarkozy meanwhile gave one of the best speeches he’s ever given as he wished Hollande the best of luck with the difficult tasks that await him. He urged his political followers to support the new President so that in the end France as a whole will not suffer. I’ve not always been a fan of Sarzoky’s, but I have to admit that his speech was heartfelt, sincere and at the level of dignified statesmanship.
I was quite surprised when Hollande promised to be a “normal” president. I thought perhaps I didn’t quite understand the French meaning employed in his particular usage. But when I asked my parents-in-law they assured me that they too were quite perplexed. After all, who wants a normal president? If anything, we want extraordinary, exceptional, dynamic, President, someone who is going to get the job done. Not just the guy next door. I think something was lost in translation?
Apparently, Hollande was referencing an important element of the French political psyche when he spoke of normalcy. Many in France believe that Sarkozy was not a normal president, that he took liberties with his power and divided neighbors. Hollande was alluding to his efforts to not fall into these same traps when he spoke of being normal. I think, if I was working on his campaign, I would have come up with a synonym to get the same message across. “Normal” just shouldn’t be an adjective used to describe the President of the fifth largest economy in the world.
- Sarkozy: For any number of reasons, a large number of French people were rubbed the wrong way by Sarkozy. He made hard decisions and didn’t apologize for them. He stood on principle and the values that he believes in and didn’t apologize for it. This self-assuredness was largely interpreted as arrogance and cunning. Some even interpreted it as racism and intolerance. Hence the idea of “voting for anybody but Sarkozy.”
- Hollande: He began his campaign during the Primaries as the least promising candidate and was considered the fall back choice after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was removed from the Presidential hopeful list by his conduct in NY last year. Hollande has no international political or Cabinet experience for he has spent his entire career as a part of the structure of the Socialist Party. He’s a party politics man. I’m not convinced that makes for an effective President.
Again, we shall see. And I hope he proves me wrong. For the sake of my future children and the cohesion of the country I’ve adopted, I hope he proves me wrong.
One finally note before I sign off about the role of the Première Dame, the First Lady of France. French protocol specifies that the wife of the President will take on the role of Première Dame. Hollande’s partner is not his wife. In France, she is considered his concubine (forgive the archaic language, but that’s the official word for their status in France). Technically then, Ms. Valérie Trierweiler should not live at the Elysée (the President’s official home and office) nor should she take on the role of hostess at official occasions nor should she be presented to other Heads of State on official foreign visits as the Première Dame of France. After all, we aren’t talking about just any couple here. We’re talking about the President of France. Mr. Hollande, if I may, do us all a favor and marry the girl already.