Finding Foreign Policy in the French Elections

By Martin Michelot

The French presidential elections are a little more than a month away, and foreign policy has played only a minor role in the campaign. The focus on jobs and economic growth has allowed the Socialist challenger, François Hollande, to slide by without outlining a foreign policy program. The danger for Hollande is that French President Nicolas Sarkozy could begin to emphasize his role in strengthening France's international standing.

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Hollande is a relative unknown outside of France, and even to the French themselves he remains somewhat of a mystery. After presiding over the Socialist Party between 1997 and 2008, Hollande took a break from politics that allowed him to hone his ideas, assemble a new team, and shed 40 pounds. Hollande's understanding of French society, his willingness to attack Sarkozy, and his new-found gregariousness made him the obvious choice for the Socialists after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was forced out of the race.

After winning the November primary, Hollande has campaigned on his desire to find a path to growth that would not involve the austerity measures that have hit Greece so hard. As Hollande's proposals were being covered extensively in the French press, Sarkozy was compelled to announce his candidacy on February 15, a full month before he originally planned.

Since then, Sarkozy's campaign has lacked direction, surprising some Elysée watchers. He has gone from developing traditionally Socialist themes, such as levying higher taxes for major companies and the much-hated "fiscal expatriates" to treading on the extreme-right's turf by endorsing a false rumor that half of the meat eaten in the Paris region is Halal. And, more surprisingly, he announced Sunday that he would suspend France's participation in the Schengen agreements "if no progress is made to control migratory influxes." Aside from being near-impossible to do, it symbolizes the extent to which Sarkozy has soured on the European Union, despite defining himself as its savior. Such a position on the EU is unheard of in France, one of the founding states and still today one of the driving forces of European cooperation.

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Martin Michelot is a Program Assistant with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Paris.

© 2012, The German Marshall Fund of the United States

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