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Paul N. Goldschmidt on Crucial options face François Hollande

8th June 2012

Paul N. Goldschmidt is a former director at the European Commission (1993-2002) and a member of the Advisory Board of the Thomas More Institute.

At the Brussels European Summit, the high wire equilibrium number performed by François Hollande was reminiscent of his performance during his election campaign.

He managed to project to the outside world the image of a forceful pro European President, ready to promote a significantly more integrated Union. It is the precondition for rallying support for his proposals aiming at greater solidarity among Member States, among which “Eurobonds” constitute an emblematic symbol.

To the extent that he would be able to gather a growing number of Member States around his objectives, he will rapidly have to acknowledge that this new orientation requires considerable new transfers of sovereignty. Europe will be mandated to coordinate and implement entire parts of economic, fiscal and social policies considered up till now as the exclusive prerogative of the Nation States.

If he assumes totally this new vision, leapfrogging Chancellor Merkel’s position to appear even more “federalist” than her, he will, once again, be sharply breaking with his predecessor’s stance. Though Nicolas Sarkosy was undoubtedly an obstinate activist in his efforts to fight the crisis at European level, he was fiercely opposed to any new transfers of powers to Brussels; he was, therefore, unable to counter effectively the German demands for reinforced community discipline.

If the new President is sincere, he will undoubtedly maximise his chances to see his European policies gain traction. It is probably in this perspective that Guy Verhofstadt welcomed his election.

Nevertheless, let us not forget the “reassuring” speech in London addressed to financial markets and the subsequent “belligerent” diatribes on the same subject addressed to the French electorate. On the eve of the legislative elections, are we about to witness a new split performance? Indeed, the clearly “federalist” stance of the President in Brussels is diametrically opposed to the policies of the Left Front whose votes contributed significantly to his victory. This positioning is also far from gathering unanimous approval with the Socialist Party itself where one can question the support of the left wing, including of Ministers such as Fabius, Hamon or Montebourg. Will the President feel obligated to make concessions to the euro sceptics in order to form a majority government?

It is clear that the price to pay to impose his views on the European scene will be the strict adherence to the budgetary targets France has undertaken. Any flexibility that might flow from a change in the European approach to fighting the crisis is subordinated to the implementation of the collective budgetary discipline pact (golden rule). It will not be easy to reconcile these obligations with campaign promises without, as suspected by the new UMP “opposition”, burdening the middle class with new taxes. He risks disappointing many voters whose objective of getting rid of Sarkosy influenced, perhaps excessively, their judgement.

A real debate on Europe and the consequences for French internal policies would be a topic worthy of the importance of the forthcoming elections. It would be a welcome substitute for the petty denunciations concerning the ability to serve as Ministers based in one instance on a sentence that has been legally dropped from the record and in the other is purely “symbolic”.

The dissensions over Europe will certainly not remain confined to the “presidential majority”. Within the opposition those who, like Jean-François Copé, assume President Sarkosy’s entire legacy could find themselves sandwiched between the Left Front and the National Front on the theme of devolution of sovereignty. It will not be an easy task to sell to the voter the traditional “republican difference” of the Right.

Only those politicians that will have the courage to overlook their immediate partisan interests in their desire to serve the superior interests of France will deserve our respect. This applies not only to the President himself but also to his majority and opposition. It means a total commitment towards establishing a “Federal Europe”, the only entity capable of corralling the considerable resources at the Union’s disposal in order to surmount the economic and financial crisis that is growing deeper by the day.

The time to come clean has dawned!

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