French Presidential elections: Impact on Europe and transatlantic relations
On May 15, GMF held a series of events surrounding the EU-G8 Series, a two-panel workshop on the French Presidential elections and their impact on Europe and transatlantic relations, at the International Club in the Federal Foreign office.
In the first panel, moderated by Pascal Thibaut of Radio France International in Berlin, Gérard Grunberg and Bruno Cautrès, both of the Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences Po/CEVIPOF, did a close reading of the previous Sunday's final vote, which had ended in the decisive victory of Nicolas Sarkozy. The elections, Grunberg said, had put paid to the old cliché that the French are no longer interested in politics. In reality, it was the leaders who had ceased to be interesting. He noted that the French Socialists had lost their third presidential election in a row by giving the appearance of conservatives petrified by the prospect of social change, illustrating the deep crisis that the party of Mitterand is facing today.
He predicted a, "presidentialization," of French politics, with parties increasingly and exclusively geared towards winning the elections. Cautrès expertly dissected the voter demographics and opinion faultlines. He emphasized that many voters' notions of the policies Royal and Sarkozy stood for had remained very fuzzy, with the result that large numbers shifted from one candidate to the other between the two rounds of voting. Whereas Royal had been regarded as a, "protective," figure, he said, Sarkozy was elected by voters who wanted a strong figure who could make change happen, and are afraid of it at the same time.
In the discussion, Grunberg predicted that Sarkozy would turn out to be a highly effective negotiator of change, rather than using brute force like, say, Margaret Thatcher. He also insisted that the great number of new voter registrations, particularly in the supposedly alienated and disenfranchised banlieues, was a welcome sign of democratic integration. Both Grunberg and Cautrès agreed on the strong likelihood of Sarkozy winning the parliamentary elections in June as well.
In the second panel, moderated by GMF transatlantic fellow Ulrike Guérot, experts Daniel Vernet, Editor-in-Chief of the Foreign Affairs section of Le Monde, Daniela Schwarzer from Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, and Philippe Moreau Defarges of the French Institute of Foreign Relations, discussed the impact of a Sarkozy presidency on Europe and the transatlantic relationship. Vernet told listeners to beware of seeing Sarkozy as pro-American merely because he had promised a, "rupture," with Chirac-ian counterweighing: "He is not anti-American, but not clearly an Atlanticist either." He also warned us that one should not read too much into the selection of Bernard Kouchner as Foreign Minister, as Sarkozy is planning to separate the office of European affairs from the Quai and attach it to the Elysée.
Schwarzer said Sarkozy would be a useful ally for Angela Merkel over EU constitutional reform and over ESDP, but, based on his highly protectionist record as Minister of Finance, a foe on issues like market liberalization. Moreau Defarges said that Sarkozy's real model is Tony Blair, because, "he wants to be seen as attractive and a man of principles," and that he would be constantly torn between this need and his equally strong pragmatism. French policy towards Turkey would determine, Moreau continued, "whether Sarkozy is a statesman or a politician."