French Elections 2012: Hollande Won, But What Does that Mean for the U.S.?

ByBen Lydon

At 8pm Sunday night in the Place de la Bastille, when François Hollande’s face and the figure 51.7% appeared on the big screens they were greeted with shrieks and cheers of on a gagné  (we won) and Sarkozy, c’est fini (Sarkozy, it’s over) from the tens of thousands who had gathered to see the results and celebrate a Socialist victory. Hollande campaigned on a platform striking against the wave of austerity that has been put in place across Europe. Key points of his manifesto included the creation of 60,000 new jobs in education over the next five years, the conclusion of a new Franco-German agreement with guarantees to protect French public services, a promise to build 500,000 new homes per year, and the restoration of the retirement age at 60 for those who have worked for more than 41 years. These policies may be all well and good for the French, but what do they mean for the U.S.?

Well, the truth is that the victory of the Socialist party candidate may not have as great an effect on French-U.S. relations as initially thought. Unlike other presidential candidates, Hollande did not declare he would pull France out of NATO, and without any great foreign policy experience his first few steps into foreign relations with nations outside the EU -- including the summits of NATO and the G8 to be held in Chicago and Camp David respectively later this month -- are likely to be pretty cautious. 

Hollande has promised to pull the total French military contingent out of Afghanistan by the end of 2012 which will of course have an affect on operations in the region. However, we must not forget that French troops only make up 3,400 of the roughly 130,000 NATO soldiers currently on the ground. Other than underscoring the disinterest in an increasing number of states to commit military resources to Afghanistan, this populist act will not greatly affect NATO operations.  

But should Americans fear Hollande due to the fact that he is a Socialist? Should Americans be worried that even communist politicians were welcomed on stage to celebrate Hollande's victory? ‘Socialist’ is a dirty word in U.S. politics, but this is most certainly not true in Western Europe. This is partially due to the difference in the history of political movements between Europe and the U.S. 

It is the left-wing parties that have been highly present on the political scene in France since the mid-19th century, defending workers’ rights and calling for political and social freedoms. This history is is also connected to the Cold War, when the atmosphere of fear surrounding all things Russian — including ‘communist’ and ‘socialist’ ideas —led to a  shunning of these extremes in the U.S. which did not occur to the same extent in Europe as it did in the US.

Today le Parti Socialiste stands for fighting against injustices wherever they are found, defending fundamental rights of one and all with the ultimate aim of the complete emancipation of the individual. It believes that the permanent redistribution of resources and riches is necessary to give reality to equal rights, reduce disparities in status, and fight poverty. In these times of crisis, and coming on the heels of five years of ineffective policies and divisive statements, the French people have chosen to follow the path of Flamby — at least until 2017.