From Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times: France feels surrounded. To the south is the debt-driven austerity and social upheaval of Greece, Spain and Italy. To the north and west are the Anglo-Saxon markets of Wall Street and the City. To the east are the implacable Germans insisting on their new fiscal pact , which promises to make austerity a legal obligation.
Both the surviving candidates are promising to defend the French social model, by going on the offensive in Europe.
The kinds of changes that the two contenders would demand are slightly different. Speaking just after the first round, Mr Sarkozy promised to “protect the French way of life”. Specifically, he pledged to tighten border controls, limit immigration and promote a “buy Europe” policy. In EU terms that could translate into a push for trade protectionism and for a renegotiation of the Schengen treaty on free movement of people. After decades in which Europe has concentrated on ripping down barriers to trade and people, Mr Sarkozy wants to start reconstructing them.
The demands of Mr Hollande, the likely winner on May 6, would be even more problematic for his European partners. He has promised to lead the fight against austerity in Europe – and to reorient the EU towards growth. Who could object to growth? But Mr Hollande will do more than demand a rhetorical commitment in the new EU fiscal treaty. He is likely to want to change the statutes of the European Central Bank – an idea Mr Sarkozy is also flirting with – which will cause a neuralgic reaction in Germany. Mr Hollande has also promised to reduce France’s deficit, while promoting Europe-wide spending on infrastructure. That can mean only one thing: Germany pays, an idea that will get a frosty reception in Berlin. . . .
While the candidates emphasised their differences, what was most striking as an outsider was how similar they all were: with their attacks on globalisation and on finance, their praise of the French social model, their lists of glorious episodes from French history and their insistence that France was not just any old country, but a model for the world.
The French exception is clearly alive. But it does not seem to be very well. That could soon become a problem for Europe as a whole. (graphic: Ingram Pinn/Financial Times)