The result of the French Presidential election was no great surprise in a way.
In fact, when one considers thatmost of his first round competitors hadendorsed Hollande,outgoingPresident Sarkozy didwell to get48%,as against the mere27% he hadgot inthe first round.
TheCentrist Bayrou, and the Left Front candidate Melenchon, had both explicitly endorsed Hollande, and the National Frontcandidate Marine le Pen, most ofwhosesupporters were otherwise trending in Sarkozy’s favour,said she wasgoing tovote for nobody .
The breakdown of the vote is interesting .
Sarkozy did best in a Northernblock of territoryfrom Normandy over tothe Germanborder in Strasbourg, and Hollande did best in Paris, and in therest of France, apart from theRiviera.
Unlike the US, where womenare more for Obama, and men more for Romney, the two candidates in France got more or less the same level ofsupport from men as from women.
Those with higher educational qualifications voted more for Sarkozy ( 54%/46%). So alsodid those who were financially better off.
Employees were54/46 in favour of Hollande, whereasbusiness and self employed were58/42 for Sarkozy.
AGE GROUPS VOTED DIFFERENTLY
The age distribution of support was most marked.
Those under24 were59/41 for Hollande.
The 25 to 34 and the 50 to 59 age groups werefor Hollande.
But the 35 to 49 age group, and the over 60s, favoured Sarkozy.
SO DID PEOPLE OF VARYING RELIGIOUS VIEWS
The most remarkable cleavage of all was on the index of religious practice.
Practising Catholics were 73/27 for Sarkozy.
Protestants were 61/39 for Sarkozy.
But those who said they had no religion were 66/34 for Hollande.
Muslims supported Hollande by a margin of93 to 7!Sarkozy’s anti immigrantrhetoric and his talkabout strengthening borders may havewon himsupport from elderly voters, but itmay make it difficult for his party to win Muslim votes in future elections and they are a very importantvoting bloc in France.
HOLLANDE IS ALSO COMMITTED TO AUSTERITY
Some may think that the election of Hollande will mean an end to so called austerity policies in France. In fact ,hegave that impression himself during the campaign. Outside France, some peoplehave seized on Hollande’s campaign rhetoric as a sign thatborrowing does not have to be reduced, andbudgets do not have to be balanced. They are mistaken.
In fact, if those who voted for him read his programme closely they would see that he is committed to getting the French budget deficit down to3% of GDP by2013, and to eliminating it altogether by2017. That simply cannot be done without austerity, at least in France itself.
Of course a little less austerityIN GERMANY might help achieve that goal, if it meant that more Germans bought French goods, or took their holidays in France.But even that is not guaranteed.
France’s big problem is a poor export performance. Whereas Spanish manufactured exports are at 108% of the level they were at in1999, Frenchexports are now at only 72% of their1999 level.This is not, it seems , because French wages are too high, but rather that French companies have not innovated enough.
Meanwhile the French national debt is at its highest level ever, apart from the peaks it reached after the two world wars.
Hollande is committed to increasing the corporation tax on big companies to 35%, and reducing the tax on small companies to 15%. This would create and incentive to companies to stay small, which may not help the French export effort much.
He is also committed to employing more teachers. This will be difficult to reconcile with his plans to eliminate the budget deficit.
MEANWHILE HE HAS TO FIGHT ANOTHER ELECTION………
The immediate task facing President Hollande is that of winning a majority in the National Assembly. This may mean that he will avoid facing really difficult choices until June, when the Assembly elections are due, and stay in campaign mode until then.
His difficulty is that the financial markets may not give him the space in which to do that.If the markets feel that, in the medium term, the French budget deficit is going to rise faster than that of Germany, interest rates on French bonds will rise faster than those on German bonds . That could create problems for the euro, something to which President Hollande is committed.
AND DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM OF GREECE
The Greek election result poses an even more immediate problem.
Greeks favour staying in the euro, but do not favour the conditions on which theycan access funds provided by the taxpayers of other euro areacountries.
These conditions involve reforming wage agreements, cutting pensions ,improving tax collection, andcutting the cost ofpharmaceuticals used in the health service. There is also a difficulty that Greece hasnot done all the things itpromised, like eliminating supplementary pensions and getting rid of off budget funds.
The trouble is that things are now so bad in Greece, that many Greek voters convinced themselves that they cannot not get worse, and thus voted for parties that want to reject the conditions on which money iscurrently being lent to Greece tokeep itsgovernment functioning.
Unfortunately, things can get much worse in Greece, even than they are now, if taxpayers in other countries decline to provide more funds. A collapse in the banking system, and a disorderly exit from the euro, would be worse than anything Greece has experiencedso far.
President Hollande, as a new leader, with a democratic mandate, has a capacity to persuadethe Greek people to see sense, to a degree that may not be open to other European leaders, including Chancellor Merkel. President Hollande canbe persuasive in Greece because
France favoured Greek entry to the euro.
France never occupied Greece.
French banks have lent to Greece in the past.
Francois Hollande is a man of the left.
All thesethings give him an authorityto speak to the Greek people,at a critical momentfor them, and for Europe.