Skip to main content

Only a miracle can save Sarkozy

By Dominique Moisi, Special to CNN
updated 6:19 PM EDT, Wed April 25, 2012
Social Democrat Francois Hollande, left, and incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy both want to be the next president of France.
Social Democrat Francois Hollande, left, and incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy both want to be the next president of France.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dominique Moisi: The French dislike Sarkozy, and Hollande is sure to win the presidency
  • Hollande is a Social Democrat, but 20% of the nation voted for the extreme right
  • Hollande's success shows a need to address the economic inequality in France, he writes
  • Moisi: Hollande's success also signals disaffection with European austerity policies

Editor's note: Dominique Moisi is senior adviser at the French Institute for International Affairs. He is the author of "The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World."

(CNN) -- The lessons of the first round of the French presidential elections are multiple and somewhat contradictory.

There is, on the one hand, the first-round victory of a self-described "normal man" who is still -- in spite of very tight results -- likely to become the next president of France: François Hollande. His lack of charisma has not been a handicap, so great was the rejection of incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy.

François Hollande's good-naturedness and his smiling personality evoke a mixture of Jacques Chirac and even Georges Pompidou. One should not be deluded: Any successful politician has a killer instinct. But his friendliness is reassuring after the hyper-energetic and aggressive personality of Sarkozy, whose style was making people unnecessarily anxious.

Hollande has managed to turn the first round into a referendum against the personality and style of the incumbent. One might say Sarkozy's behavior greatly encouraged him in this choice of strategy. The incumbent candidate would have done better campaigning on his success in dealing with an unprecedented economic crisis with determination and firmness.

Dominique Moisi
Dominique Moisi

In 2007, Sarkozy campaigned on hope and modernity. In 2012, he was the candidate of fear, appealing to the right-wing opponents of immigration.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook.com/cnnopinion

It wasn't expected at all, but French participation was at a level that Americans dream about: more than 80%. But this apparent triumph of democracy was somewhat tainted.

Nearly 20% of the electorate voted for the National Front, the party of the extreme right. To add insult to injury, many young voters supported the party's candidate, Marine Le Pen. Youth is supposed to be synonymous with hope. With the rise of unemployment and the decline of belief in the value of the European Union, it seems young people, especially poorly educated ones, are motivated by fear much more than by hope.

This rise of right-wing populism affecting mostly the young, which one witnesses from Hungary to France, is of course the direct consequence of the economic, social -- if not ethical -- crisis that besets Europe once again. It would be excessive to speak of the return of the 1930s. Those tragic years were the product of the encounter between the Great War of 1914-18 and the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. We are not there and, we hope, will never again be there.

Nevertheless, in France, Sarkozy has been playing with fire in his attempt to seduce extreme-right voices. As Churchill would have said: "He will have dishonour first and then defeat."

At this point, only a miracle could save Sarkozy. In 2007, modernity meant the call for structural reforms. In 2012, modernity may be on Hollande's side when he campaigns on fairness and the fight against social injustice. In this juncture in our global world, there is a need to restore a broken social contract resulting from too much inequality. It is a most modern issue that concerns the entire world, with the possible exception of Nordic Europe. It affects the United States as well as China, India or Brazil. Sacrifices can only be acceptable if they seem to be equally shared by all segments of society.

What would a Hollande victory mean for France and for Europe?

The year 2012 is not 1981, when the Left came to power behind François Mitterrand for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic. The Cold War is over; the Reds are more "pale pink" than ever; the rules of monetary union are much stricter than they ever were. The margin for maneuver in a sovereign state in Europe is extremely limited by law as much as by economic circumstances. Hollande is a Social Democrat; he does not have the means to be a revolutionary. As for Europe, Hollande in power in France would merely be an accelerating factor in the slow evolution of the EU away from a strict austerity policy, which the Germans themselves have started to question.

Can a "normal man" be the right choice for exceptional times? Harry Truman in the United States rose to the challenge. Why not Hollande in France?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dominique Moisi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT