Francois Hollande was today sworn in as French president before heading to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel in a bid to get to grips with Europe’s ailing economy. Up till this point, the Franco-German axis that has led the efforts to lead the eurozone out of the gloom of the recession has focussed on austerity and fiscal constraints and tightening. Before this point the leaders of the two countries were both centre-right politicians and Nicolas Sarkozy certainly did little to stand in the way of German efforts to bring the eurozone countries and economy to heel, imposing rigorous fiscal discipline on states that, in some cases, would be far better off out of the eurozone with the ability to control their own economy rather than be used as a toy of the Franco-German axis. Hopefully, with the advent of a new leader in France, Europe can begin to reverse the negativity of the centre-right governments that have dominated Europe and bring growth, fairness and equality to the continent.
The first step hollande needs to take in his new job is to let Merkel know that austerity will no longer be good enough for Europeans. An obvious failure to establish good, continuous growth following the recession has proven that the policies of the current European leaders regarding the European economy are not good enough, and hopefully Francois Hollande can bring to the table a more positive agenda for growth and lead the eurozone out of the economic quagmire it finds itself in. As part of this, Hollande must recognise that European governments need to invest in their countries and there is no way around this. Earlier this year, whilst the Dutch, Italian and German economies were contracting, the French economy experienced a 0.2% growth boosted mainly by exports. Hollande should pick up on this and rebalance Europe’s economies towards manufacturing and exporting products to the prosperous, large and rising economies in Asia and South America. The rejection of centre-right governments in votes across Europe should give Hollande the impetus and backing he needs to stand up to Merkel and replace austerity with a growth agenda.
Furthermore, Hollande must allow the weaker eurozone countries such as Greece to make as pain-free an exit from the Euro as possible, allowing the Greeks to balance their own books in their own way. The mixed election results in Greece and the inability of Greek leaders to form a coalition is worrying and Greece needs strong governance soon, but that governance must come from Greeks, not technocrats in Brussels. The Greek people will accept nothing else, as made clear by the lengthy demonstrations and rebellion against conservative policies in the country. The same case must be made for other eurozone countries such as Spain where the plight of the indignados has aroused much interest and points to a similar public anxiety with austerity as that exuding from Greece.
It is important therefore for Hollande to oppose Merkel’s wish for continued austerity in Europe as well as loosening the regulation imposed in countries from Brussels, allowing the masses to choose for themselves how their economies are run and by whom.
Another aspect to Hollande’s job will be to help bring success to other left-leaning parties across Europe in their next general elections. Voters across Europe will be keeping an eye on the progress made by Hollande and the French left, particularly concerning the economy, as a guide to how well social democratic policies can work for them. It is important that Hollande not only performs well in the French economy, but also on the domestic front, if Europe’s socialists are to again find themselves in the position of power and ascendency within Europe.
Finally, Hollande must seek to combat the far-right in France, where Marine Le Pen achieved surprisingly good results with her Front Nationale party, a xenophobic, anti-immigration, fascist-esque movement not dissimilar to far-right parties in the UK and Europe as a whole. Hollande must ensure that he eruditely and efficiently opposes the policies of the far-right and particular condemns Nicolas Sarkozy for attaching himself to Front Nationale policies in the final run-off in an attempt to gain far-right voters, a particularly dirty and disgraceful part of Sarkozy’s re-election bid.
Hollande therefore has a big job to fulfil on entering office and I hope for the sake of the European left that he is able to perform his duties in a capable and successful manner. It would certainly be disastrous for the economic policies of centre-left opposition parties in Europe were Hollande to fail to turn the tide of economic gloom descending over the eurozone.