France's new president is socialist Francois Hollande. With his promised growth program, he was the clear winner in Sunday's run-off election against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
A year ago, nobody in France would have seriously expected Francois Hollande to become the next president. Now he is set to be France's first socialist leader in 17 years.
The 57-year-old economist was considered bland and a political lightweight. But then the favorite, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, resigned his post as head of the International Monetary Fund over a sex scandal and was out of the race before it began. For Francois Hollande, the moment had arrived.
Hollande has never served as a minister, and he built his career within the Socialist Party. In 2008, when he was succeeded after 11 years as party head by Martine Aubry, his successor said the the party was in a "pathetic" state. Hollande's former girlfriend Segolene Royal last year posed the rhetorical question: "Can the French people name one thing he did in 30 years of political life?"
Challenged Jacques Chirac in the 1980s
Even the start of his political career was bumpy. When in 1981 the French first elected socialist Francois Mitterrand to presidency in a direct election, the party sent the then 26-year-old Hollande into the political wilderness. The young politician was supposed to campaign for a seat in the parliament in the constituency of Jacques Chirac in Correze in central France, of all places. He didn't stand a chance. But over the years, the graduate of the elite ENA gained the respect of the rural population.
After the constituencies were redistricted in 1988, he managed the leap into the National Assembly, at the same time as his contemporary Nicolas Sarkozy. The paths of Sarkozy and Hollande, who both grew up in the posh Paris suburb of Neuilly, and who are on a first-name basis away from the cameras, have regularly crossed since then.
Positive image of Europe
Hollande's election manifesto, with its "60 commitments for France," is vague. The socialist, who is moderate by French standards, threw a few bones to the public and the various camps of his party. Renegotiation of the EU Fiscal Pact is one of the points that caused a stir. From Germany, he demanded "more solidarity" in a much-publicized speech that launched his campaign. The Paris political scientist Renaud Dehousse believes these were addressed to domestic voters, not to foreign countries. After all, in the first round of voting just over a third of French people chose populist parties demanding withdrawal from the euro and broader protectionism.
No details on spending cuts
Is Francois Hollande anti-European? Dehousse does not think so. The socialist's resume - his work with the über-European Jacques Delors - proves the contrary. What is more, in 2005 he voted for the European Constitution even though powerful party factions pushed for its rejection. Dehousse says Hollande is not only dedicated to the pro-European cause, but is also one of the few French supporters of supranational integration as envisaged by the founding fathers of Europe.
"The Germans will be dealing with a French head of state who embodies the classic German positions of community policy much more than his predecessor did," Dehousse said.
Domestically, Hollande won support with his promise to create 60,000 new teaching positions, to partly reverse his predecessor's pension reform and to introduce a millionaire's tax of 75 percent. Hollande is hoping for a strong economic recovery to finance these schemes - although experts have failed to predict one - because Hollande is also committed in principle to the goal of balanced budgets.
In light of France's parlous financial situation and because of pressure from the financial markets, observers assume, however, that Hollande the economist must quickly renege on at least some campaign promises, and instead find answers to an issue that he largely left open: state spending cuts.
Author: Andreas Noll / sgb
Editor: Eva Wutke