On Wednesday evening, I was invited by the London School of Economics to discuss the presidential election with one Sciences Po colleague from Paris. There was a question from the floor about Europe, or to put it more precisely, about the absence of Europe in the campaign. I replied that with the exception of Nicolas Sarkozy - one of the architects of the increasingly unpopular Merkozy axis - Europe featured in most candidates’ speeches and proposals. Of the four main candidates, only Marine Le Pen would like France to leave the eurozone. Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants to submit the fiscal compact to a popular referendum and draft a new treaty. François Hollande proposes to amend aspects of the existing treaty. Only Sarkozy defends the treaty which promises austerity policies to all member states in the long-term future.
Discussions on European integration in France are more “politicised” in France than in Britain. Since the “no vote” on the European constitutional treaty in 2005, the national debate is no longer between partisans of further integration (federalists or integrationists) and advocates of further national sovereignty (intergovernmentalists or sovereignists). It opposes two conceptions of European integration: a “leftwing” one (or Keynesian) and a “rightwing” one (or neoliberal). Among the four main candidates, Le Pen is the only true Eurosceptic à la UKIP. It is no surprise that Nigel Farage was praising the Front National’s European policies on the BBC this week.
A Hollande victory next week would open up a debate about a change in the eurozone’s economic strategy. A leftwing president would press his European partners to take action to reverse the downward spiral of negative growth and rising unemployment. Hollande hopefully should try to inject a note of dissent into the pro-austerity consensus in Europe. Hollande’s plan remains unclear at this stage, but he is on record as saying that he would negotiate a series of “additional measures” rather than an actual revision of the treaty. He wants Europe to concentrate on growth measures and allow the European Central Bank to loan money to the European Stability Mechanism. The ECB should also be obliged to pursue growth objectives as well as prices stability.
The pro-market media have tried to ridicule Hollande’s “delusion of grandeur”. Would he be isolated? That remains to be seen. Mario Draghi, the ECB president, Mariano Rajoy in Spain and even Mario Monti (“Signore Austerità”) in Italy, have all demanded the implementation of growth measures as well. We shall see, but one thing is certain: a Sarkozy re-election would terminate the debate and lead to the hardening of Merkozy’s austerity programme.