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What a Hollande Presidency Would Mean for the West

12:00 AM, Apr 22, 2012 • By ANNE-ELISABETH MOUTET
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The Hollande entourage, who learned from Mitterrand that you can promise anything and do the exact opposite, say in private that there will be little substance to the current threats of punitive taxation of the middle classes and corporations. They aren’t taking sufficiently into account that in the economy, even more than in politics, perception is reality. If, in the wake of Hollande’s election, there’s a run on the euro, and Moody’s, the ratings agency, downgrades France’s debt (Standard & Poor’s already shoved us down to AA+ from AAA last January), expect, beyond the usual saber-rattling speeches, a number of quiet behind-the-scenes moves designed to control financial markets, in Brussels and elsewhere. There will be obscure amendments aiming to reframe regulation to hamstring pension funds and tax financial transactions, and impose extra costly compliance obligations. This will have an effect, just as any trans-border deal affecting an American and a French institution will be more easily understood in the light of France’s implacable rivalry with “Anglo-Saxon unfettered markets.”

Unlike the hyperactive Sarkozy, who treated his prime minister like a mere chief of staff, Hollande will be only too happy to let his ministers make (often unpopular) decisions. In this as in many other things, Sarkozy broke with Fifth Republic tradition to his own detriment: De Gaulle fashioned the Constitution so that the prime minister was in effect a circuit breaker, shielding the president—a tactic followed by François Mitterrand, in whose Elysée Hollande worked as a junior adviser. Who Hollande appoints to his cabinet will therefore matter far more than it did for his predecessor.

With Martine Aubry, who is the daughter of Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission and artisan of the Maastricht treaty, as probable prime minister, and a finance minister likely to be Pierre Moscovici, a former European affairs minister, it’s easy to guess the general tone of French policy for the next five years. One obvious casualty will be NATO, which France rejoined under Nicolas Sarkozy, in favor of more European Defense Integration. Hollande would never have taken the lead with the United States, Britain, and NATO against Qaddafi, for instance.

Because Hollande knows little of international affairs, he is likely to pick the staunchly anti-“anglo-saxon” Hubert Védrine, a former Mitterrand chief of staff who was an extremely capable foreign minister under Chirac and Jospin. Védrine, the son of a Mitterrand acolyte and junior Vichy official, Jean Védrine, is a clever, urbane ENA graduate with a clear vision of a foreign policy designed to reduce the West’s influence in global affairs. (He coined the word “hyperpower” to refer to Washington. It was not meant as a compliment.) Védrine has done much, like his political adversary Jacques Chirac, to foster the notion of “multipolarity,” in which many more international players can influence world affairs, U.N.-like. Only uncharitable minds would point out that this is a recipe for world chaos.

But it wasn’t Védrine who prompted Hollande to vow that, once elected, he would bring all French troops back from Afghanistan before the end of the year—even though this is far from a burning issue in a country that has few qualms about deploying its professional army abroad, in the Ivory Coast, Mali, or Chad. On Friday, Hollande repeated in a radio interview that French soldiers would be back before the end of 2012 “even if we need to hire Antonov transport planes from the Russians.” At this late stage of the proceedings on the ground, the departure of the French contingent (whose special forces were quietly but ruthlessly efficient earlier in the conflict) is unlikely to change much about the Afghan military situation. But as a message sent to the Taliban, to our allies, and to the rest of the world, it will be disastrous, and may well linger as the signature tone of the forthcoming Hollande presidency.

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is a regular columnist for the London Telegraph and a commentator for the BBC. 

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