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Among those ambitions is scuttling the German-led austerity plans aimed at getting Europe’s spiraling debt under control. Hollande’s election puts him on a collision course with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been a leading voice for the sensible idea that Europe must change its free-spending ways, including cutting unsustainable public spending, if it is to get is fiscal house in order. Hollande represents the reactionary left’s belief that a combination of more government borrowing and stimulus spending – the very ills that brought Europe to its current pass – will somehow rescue it from continent-wide economic crisis. Judging by his victory speech, Hollande does not intend to back down on this front. He used the occasion to declare that “Austerity can no longer be inevitable!” The same may well be said of the alternative: a continued pattern of government profligacy that has turned countries like Greece into economic disaster areas.
As well as jeopardizing much-needed economic reform, Hollande’s victory also forestalls a reckoning with the French election’s sleeper-issue: the growing problem of a culturally dislocated and increasingly radicalized Muslim immigrant community. That problem was highlighted most recently by the case of Mohammed Merah, a second-generation Muslim immigrant from Algeria who went on a grisly shooting spree in Toulouse in which he gunned down seven people, including soldiers and children at a Jewish day school. While the French left reflexively condemned any attempt to link Islam with the Merah’s acts, ignoring the fact that he had called out “Allahu Akhbar” while slaughtering his victims, the issue was clearly on the minds of French voters, who responded by giving the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front a record share of the vote in the first round of voting in April. Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s candidate, had decried Islamic radicalism as “green fascism,” a reference to Islam’s dominant color.
Sarkozy tried to co-opt the issue in the final days of the campaign, calling for new restrictions on immigration, but those policies are unlikely to be revived in a Hollande presidency. To his credit, Hollande has opposed laws specially accommodating Muslims. He has vowed to enforce France’s ban against the burqa and promised to resist Muslim appeals for separate menus in public cafeterias as well as separate swimming hours in public pools for men and women. Still, the Socialist Party has drawn significant support from Muslim voters, and as such it’s hard to envision a frank discussion of Muslim integration becoming a part of the political conversation after Hollande’s victory.
For Sarkozy, the defeat is a painful setback for a canny politician who once enjoyed record approval ratings. But his early support evaporated following a series of personal gaffes, most notably a divorce from his wife and a highly public courtship of supermodel Carla Bruni. Sarkozy is partly a victim of a poor economic climate, but he did not help his cause by pursuing a timid policy agenda that failed to live up to his campaign promises of bold economic reform even as it featured government spending nearly as lavish as what Hollande now promises. Disillusioned with Sarkozy’s effective socialism, France must hope it fares better with the genuine article.
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