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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada