Much of the analysis of the victory of Francois Hollande and the Socialists in the French presidential election will focus on the impact of the change in power on the European economy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably miss Nicolas Sarkozy more than many of his compatriots as she attempts to hold the line for a fiscal policy that will try to save Europe and the euro from being dragged down by spendthrift nations like Greece. But President Obama may wind up missing him just as much if not more.
While some American liberals may assume that President Obama’s affection for the spirit of European social democracy will put him in natural sympathy with Hollande, there is no telling whether the chemistry between them will turn out to be positive. More important than that is the fact that Sarkozy’s leadership on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat allowed Obama, as he said of his stance on Libya, to “lead from behind.” Without Sarkozy pushing the European Union toward tough sanctions on Tehran, the West would not have gone as far as it already has toward pressuring the Iranians. With Sarkozy gone that will put more pressure on Obama to assume a leadership role as the P5+1 talks proceed this summer that he would probably prefer not to take.
The head of the CRIF, the head of the umbrella group representing French Jewry, is coming under criticism for saying a victory for Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a potential disaster for Israel. Richard Prasquier stated in an opinion column published last week in Haaretz that anti-Israel elements within the Socialist Party will be able to exert disproportionate influence in a Hollande administration.
While Prasquier said Hollande had expressed friendship for Israel, he left little doubt that the strong ties between the Jewish community and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy left some Jews worried about the consequences if the polls are right and the Socialist wins on Sunday. Of special concern was the fact that while Sarkozy has been the most ardent European opponent of a nuclear Iran, Hollande is untested on the issue and will govern with the support of leftist foes of Israel who will play a large role in his government.
For Americans, picking favorites in French elections is a difficult task. The political combat between the inheritors of Charles De Gaulle’s centrist faction, the socialists and their more marginal foes on both the right and the left generally leaves Americans cold in a way that the equally remote battles of Conservatives and Laborites in Britain does not. Though Americans may have viewed Nicolas Sarkozy with more affection than his predecessor Jacques Chirac — whose opposition to American foreign policy inspired intense hostility on these shores — it isn’t likely that his departure from the Elysee Palace would generate much grief here. But the French election will have a not insignificant influence on a number of issues that are important to Americans. As Seth noted, Sarkozy’s defeat would be a blow to the joint effort he undertook with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to promote an austerity-first fiscal approach that would save the Eurozone. But the triumph of Francois Hollande and the Socialists might have an even bigger impact on the ability of the West to present a united front to Iran.
Sarkozy may share President Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is also true that France’s stance on Middle East peace under his administration has been no more helpful than it might be under the Socialists. However, Sarkozy has been a stalwart opponent of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, often getting far ahead of the United States on the issue and helping to buttress the shaky determination of the European Union to take a firm stand. As Tony Karon points out in Time Magazine, it is almost a certainty that Hollande would not be interested in staking out such a tough position or using his influence to keep the EU in line on the matter.