Does Hollande’s Victory Signal a Shift in International Relations?
As part of the Berlin office’s Domestic Elections: Global Implications series, the German Marshall Fund (GMF) hosted an off-the-record luncheon discussion on “France after the Presidential Election: Implications for Franco-German and Transatlantic Relations,” with speakers Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, Director of GMF’s Paris office, and Cécile Calla, journalist and editor-in chief of the magazine ParisBerlin. The discussion was moderated by Senior Program Officer Sudha David-Wilp and included a senior member of the German Bundestag, as well as representatives from foreign embassies, German think tanks and the Federal Foreign Office.
Taking place five days after François Hollande was voted as the new French president, the discussion focused on the repercussions the change at the Élysée would have for both the Franco-German relationship and for transatlantic-security cooperation. Regarding the former, the most contentious issue identified was Hollande’s campaign promises of increased public spending and growth policies that conflict with those of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, whose priorities are implementation of the fiscal compact and structural reforms in European countries, including France. While the contours of the new Franco-German tandem will only truly be able to take shape after the French parliamentary elections next month, commentators pointed to the potential for positive effects the socialist president may have on the German-French dynamic within the EU. Following from this, ‘Merkollande’ may likely signal a greater shift of opening towards other European countries, which may benefit the EU and the eurozone as a whole; and if Hollande lives up to his image as ‘le président normal’ and a man of compromise, he may yet find harmony with the pragmatically-minded German Chancellor.
Regarding French foreign policy and the transatlantic relationship, Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer outlined key foreign policy challenges for President Hollande some of which he will confront on the global stage at the upcoming Camp David and NATO Chicago summits. One of the pressing topics, the issue of an early French troop withdrawal from Afghanistan – a promise he made to his voters – will likely resurface. Hollande will need to forge France’s foreign policy position against the twin issues of shrinking budgetary means and the reality of a less Eurocentric world. Perhaps contrary to some pre-election commentary, comments made during the discussion pointed to the fact that Hollande may likely find an unexpected supporter in the White House for some of his initiatives.
The discussion frequently came back to what seemed to be one of the biggest challenges for Hollande: to follow through on foreign policy prerogatives, both on the European and the global stage, while managing an increasingly polarized electorate and a growing populist movement at home. Despite this great challenge, discussants were cautiously optimistic of Franco-German and transatlantic relations under the new French president.