Thirty-one years ago Francis Mitterrand became the only left-wing president of
The parallels are evident. Mitterrand faced an increasing unpopular centre-right incumbent Valéry Giscard d'Estaing whose administration was caught in the economic downturn provoked by an oil price crisis. Hollande is riding high in the polls against another incumbent,
The President's poll ratings for the first round of the presidential election on
Like Mitterrand, Hollande heads a party that is hungry for victory after long years out of power. As in 1981, the Socialists promise radical change. On a television show, he said that he does not like rich people and has added that "my real adversary in this campaign is the world of finance."
That makes Hollande, an amiable figure with whom one can imagine having a companionable dinner in his rural fiefdom in the Corrèze department, unusual among
He has promised to boost state spending by
Vitally, Hollande says he will renegotiate the euro-zone fiscal pact to spur growth whatever the Germans think. The prospect of a clash with
There may be a fair measure of campaign bravado in all this and some observers expect Hollande to knuckle under to the consensus if he gets to the presidential palace after the second round of the election in May. But that is not a foregone conclusion, He has set out his stall unambiguously with the enthusiastic backing of his own party which may prove difficult to disown - left wing Socialists are openly highly critical of German policy as is the breakaway leftist politician, Jean-Luc Mélenchon who has attracted big crowds with his call for a "citizen's revolution."
Those who remember the early Mitterrand period recall that his reflationary policies led to inflation, a rising trade deficit and two devaluations. The president had to change tack and enlist West German help. But
In part that is because, for all his speech-es and television interviews, Sarkozy has not convinced the electorate that it has to reform the economy - a task made all the more difficult by his relatively modest delivery of the reforms he promised when elected in 2007. In part it is because of the attachment the French feel for the benefits which have accrued to them over the decades of high state spending when the government could plunge ever deeper into debt - and are reluctant to accept the colder world now engulfing them.
Nor surprising perhaps for a country which has not had a balanced budget for four decades and where growth is flat. State spending amounts to 54 per cent of GDP and state debt stands at 85 per cent of GDP with some analysts forecasting that it could rise to 95 per cent by 2014 - and that is before the impact of a Hollande expansionary programme is felt.
But it is also because the equation which
Hollande's pledge to stand up to
The realities of European politics, the habit of seeking fudges and papering over cracks, argues against any such confrontation. Hollande, who has spent his career as a backroom organiser and has never held government office, does not naturally fit the role of a 21st century Joan of Arc riding out against the forces of austerity.
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