Travails and troubles of being second Francois

Never the reluctant socialist, Francois Hollande, the 24th President of the Fifth French Republic, seems a man in moderation, yet one who would strive tirelessly to deliver a new narrative for France.

Published: 02nd June 2012 10:09 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th October 2012 11:52 AM   |  A+A-

Never the reluctant socialist, Francois Hollande, the 24th President of the Fifth French Republic, seems a man in moderation, yet one who would strive tirelessly to deliver a new narrative for France — internally and through his foreign policy postulates for Europe and may be even far beyond. That he could outwit a seasoned campaigner like Nicolas Sarkozy, a man of immense political experience and agile mind, in a close contest, speaks highly of this socialist son of largely conservative France.
He is the second Francois from the socialist movement to be ensconced within the hallowed precincts of one of the many architectural delights of Paris, the 18th century Palais de l’Elysee or the Elysee Palace, the official residence of the French President. Earlier, Francois Mitterrand had served as French President from 1981 to 1995. Hollande displayed a unique personal trait during his arduous campaign for the presidency. It was his overt capacity for physical and emotional communion with the
people that helped him tilt the balance in his favour.
Can he sustain that very democratic imperative through his first term?  That, in one of his first sorties out of France, on May 25, just days after his inauguration, President Hollande was willing to step out into the danger zone of Kabul and spell out his vision for Afghanistan, in the presence of his counterpart Hamid Karzai, was an act of courage. His pronouncements on the occasion that, “the troops had carried out their mission in Afghanistan”, as also that “there will be further engagement, but in a different form”, can be interpreted as judging appropriately the sentiments and the range of needs of the Afghan society. The frame of options he offered go beyond mere maintenance of internal peace through the protocol of foreign military-cumulus of patrols. With nearly the same discipline of thinking and entailing strategy among the  decision making counsels in New Delhi’s South Block, a feasible synergy in approach with Paris, Kabul and other willing strategic partners could indeed serve the quest for peace in Afghanistan.
Closer home in Europe and within the highly politicised French nation too, Hollande faces equally compelling challenges with respect to the finality of the Eurozone (with or without Greece in it). He also has to address the connected creation of a European rating agency that integrally reads European sentiments and angularities and resolves the domestic complexities of recasting marginal rates of taxation of the higher income French entities and individuals. His ambitious plans to create new jobs within state segments like education, judiciary and the police, and providing a large spectrum of subsidised employment opportunities run counter to the arduous ‘continental’ curbs to manage fiscal deficit highs. The accompanying moral accountability, to which Paris normally adheres to as one of the empowering economic engines of Europe, could delay, if not destabilise, the Hollande agenda to reconstruct a self-proud French economy.
The long five-year trudge through the bushes of economic uncertainty could thus be a formidable task for President Hollande. The task will be more onerous considering the rising level of socialist aspirations which are prone to reinforce strife when non-performance in the vital domain of economy shows starkly across
national notice boards. These are bound to be reflected in turn with all the attendant biases by an unsparing media, both the print and the visual versions, judgmental to the root. In the current context of a world economy, gradually assuming a ‘full gloom’ status, the new President may not find it exactly convenient, timing wise, to usher in any ‘quiet revolution’, of the kind President Mitterrand had once envisaged in the economic arena during his eventful 14-year presidency. Francois Hollande may also not have the luxury to focus on cultural deliverance, his socialist pre-entity and the first namesake once did with gay abandon in the midst of public dissonance in its early days.
Was it President Richard Nixon who called the US presidency ‘an obstacle race’ where timing does matter but not as much as clearing a given obstacle with the accrual of the least political costs? President Hollande verily awaits his first major hurdle, as it could shape up to be with a high level of unpredictability thrown in the 14th National Assembly polls in which 6,500 candidates would vie for 577 seats in mid June. The dangers of political co-habitation and minority governance are too well known to the French polity as well as the irreversible damage these pronounced political negatives could usher in to throw off gear any diligent plan Hollande has, independently on his own or by presidential initiative.
(The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own
Menon is a former additional secy, Cabinet Secretariat)


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