François Hollande’s win in France — combined with the fractured Greek government following Sunday’s elections — sent jitters through global markets Monday morning as the world came to terms with voters’ anger over austerity measures. In France, the Socialist Hollande has promised to put more of the burden for fixing the country’s economic problems onto the wealthy and to soften planned austerity measures.
It’s easy to see why investors’ nerves might be rattled. Hollande has said he would raise taxes on French banks by 15 percent and implement a financial transaction tax. Those making more than a million euros a year could see their tax rate grow to 75 percent. He has spoken about the financial industry with the kind of bluntness one rarely hears from politicians: “My enemy is the world of finance,” Hollande has said. President Obama’s “fat cats” reference looks pretty benign in comparison.
Still, I wonder how the picture that’s emerging of Hollande’s leadership style fits with one who will succeed in implementing such radical change. In a profile in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Hollande is described as “a jovial, wise-cracking believer in consensus politics” who is so opposed to conflict that “he was once nicknamed ‘the marshmallow’ within his own party, or ‘Flanby,’ after a wobbly caramel pudding.” In an op-ed in the New York Times, Rosecrans Baldwin describes Hollande by writing “he’s calm and placid and dislikes confrontation.”
While consensus building is a good skill for leaders, it’s also not exactly the description you’d expect of one who will have to stand up to German Chancellor Andrea Merkel.
Hollande is also expected to return to a more hands-off style of leading. Unlike Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor who was defeated in the run-off election, Hollande doesn’t intend to micromanage the country’s government, reports say. Instead, as is traditional with French presidents, he is expected to rely more on the prime minister to execute the agenda he sets. While that may give him more time to develop a strategy and build consensus coalitions, it could also keep him more removed from the process of implementing change.
What’s more, some see the election as more of a vote against Sarkozy than a vote for Hollande. Winning just less than 52 percent of the vote in a runoff is hardly a mandate, and while “Monsieur Normal” may be just what French voters were looking for after the flamboyant tenure of Sarkozy, remaining popular is another story. France’s jobless rate is at 10 percent, a more than 12-year high, and building consensus will be even harder amid a political landscape that has been shaken by the euro-zone crisis. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen received nearly a fifth of the vote in the April 22 election.
There is little question that the election of François Hollande speaks volumes about discontent in France regarding the economy and the plans for austerity in Europe. And Hollande’s every-man persona is certainly a sharp contrast to his predecessor’s right-wing flash. But it will be telling to see whether a more hands-off leader, who reportedly dislikes confrontation, will succeed during a time of crisis by building coalitions among a divided electorate or will succumb when pushed into a battle of wills with the more conservative and economically powerful German chancellor.
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