In the run up to this past Sunday's vote, Hollande's campaign had adopted a more traditionalist leftist stance, highlighting a millionaires tax and renegotiation of the recent fiscal pact among European Union countries to deal with their rolling sovereign debt crisis. One suspects this was in part driven by a desire to close off the rise of Melenchon on his left flank. French socialists are still traumatized by the events of 2002, when a division of the left torpedoed the candidacy of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of that presidential election.
Over the next two weeks, Hollande will need to rediscover the pragmatism he exhibited during the Socialist primary last October. This approach helped him defeat the ideological "tough left" approach of Martine Aubry, who had argued for an ideological left to counter and increasingly populist right. This approach might also help Hollande deliver a new economic approach in Europe, one that subtly alters his current argument in favor of renegotiating the European fiscal pact, which would prove long and difficult.
Indeed, last weekend, in Rome it appeared as though this pivot had already begun. Speaking at a conference of progressive parliamentary parties co-organized by the Italian Democrats and the Center for American Progress, Elisabeth Guigou, a close advisor to Hollande and former finance minister under a previous Socialist-led government in the 1990s, displayed that more nuanced approach. Speaking of balancing fiscal responsibility with growth, she hinted that Hollande might propose a European jobs-and-growth protocol to complement the fiscal pact. This would be easier to negotiate, and would quickly provide European-level growth targets to complement commitments to fiscal responsibility.
Guigou also signaled the Hollande presidential campaign would focus on so-called European project bonds, or infrastructure finance initiatives backed by the European Investment Bank to help leverage private investment into job-creating pan-European public-private infrastructure projects. Again, this would be an easier short-term objective to achieve, and thus much more likely to make an immediate impact than a stalled attempt to evolve the European Central Bank into a European level lender of last resort able to issue Europeanwide bonds.
Across Europe, this turn toward more pragmatic progressivism will provide welcome news. There is a growing disquiet across the continent with how austerity politics is choking economic recovery amid the collapse of the right-of-center Dutch government earlier this week and the insistence by Spain's newly elected right-of-center Prime Minister, Manuel Rajoy, that further reductions in public spending were impossible. With the upcoming May 6 final presidential vote in France taking place on the same day that Greece elect a new parliament, Europe could be fast approaching a watershed moment in its politics.
A victory for Francois Hollande not only would make President Sarkozy the latest victim of austerity's failings but also be a game changer in terms of approaches to widespread economic ills. Progressives and conservatives in Europe could unite around a jobs-and-growth protocol and new public-private infrastructure finance bonds to rekindle Europeanwide economic growth.