Leading article: As France goes, so will go Europe

Share
Related Topics

After months of skirmishing, the French presidential candidates are finally under starter's orders and the real contest can begin. That the campaign seems to have been going on forever, though, should not be allowed to obscure the significance that the outcome will have, not just for France, but for Europe and for Britain.

On the face of it, French voters are contemplating a straight, and very traditional, choice between left and right. The incumbent President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is an unapologetic advocate of the free market (albeit with French characteristics), who combines a strong streak of libertarianism with old-fashioned Gaullism. His chief opponent, the Socialist, François Hollande, started out as an almost accidental candidate – the beneficiary of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's continuing woes – but impressed doubters early on, showing an oratory and passion he had hitherto concealed. He, too, has come across as an old-fashioned politician, of a statist variety.

There are small-scale dynamics to be watched: a potential increase in the National Front vote in the wake of the recent shootings in south-west France, which could cost Mr Sarkozy crucial support, and the unpredictable appeal of the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who could take support from Mr Hollande. The centrist, François Bayrou, seems once again not to be making a mark.

But a contest that once seemed to be Mr Hollande's to lose – with France's stagnant economy and the euro's difficulties making incumbency a liability for Mr Sarkozy – has now tightened as the President mobilises his formidable campaigning skills. Incumbency could even turn out to be a plus, as Mr Hollande's shortage of top-flight experience is exposed. Disgracefully adept at playing on French security fears when an election is at stake, Mr Sarkozy is not the loser yet.

With many French voters yet to make up their mind, the result will turn on which they regard as the lesser evil: more of the medicine prescribed by Mr Sarkozy, or a retreat to the bosom of a cash-strapped state. The first would probably mean more of the same uneasy quest for Europe-wide technocratic solutions. The second could turn the politics of Europe upside down, with leftward change suddenly seen as possible elsewhere. Whatever happens on 22 April, no one should be in any doubt. This is a French election that really matters.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

Science Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Year 6 Teacher - Flintshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Flintsh...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 6 Teachers urgently needed for su...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits