François Hollande: Towards a European New Deal?

Published on EurActiv, by EurActiv, February 27, 2012. (Original version in french: L’Europe, l’aléa de François Hollande).

As part of an ongoing series, EurActiv France is profiling major candidates in the 2012 French presidential elections, analysing in detail what their political action, programmes and policies mean for the European Union. François Hollande, Socialist candidate and current front-runner, promises a break with the ‘Merkozy’ consensus on Europe’s economic crisis and a revision of the fiscal compact treaty.  

In his entourage Hollande passes for a ‘convinced European’. “It is one of his oldest and most structured commitments,” says a source close to him. However, his career has had both ups and downs because of European affairs (see background) and some say he would have preferred to steer clear of the topic in his run for the presidency … //

… Socialists isolated in Europe:

Even if Hollande wins the elections, the European Council of national heads of state and government will remain overwhelmingly dominated by centre-right leaders. His potential Socialist and Social-Democrat allies in the eurozone will be limited to Werner Faymann of Austria and Elio Di Rupo of Belgium.

For now, the advocates of a renegotiation are scarce. Even for centre-left leaders the issue is sensitive. Asked by EurActiv on Di Rupo’s intentions on the Treaty one Belgian diplomat said “I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.”

In the European Parliament prudence is also the rule. Germany’s Martin Schulz (S&D), the European Parliament president, and leader of the Socialist Group Hannes Swoboda (Austria) fully support the European public investments promoted by Hollande, but they do not go so far as to openly defend the idea of treaty renegotiation.

Pierre Moscovici, Hollande’s campaign manager, has said he wants a replay of the negotiations over the stability pact in 1997. Then Prime Minister Lionel Jospin had argued for taking growth into account in its objectives, resulting in the “Stability and Growth Pact”.

However, this amendment was largely toothless, much like the pact’s budgetary restrictions, highlighting the impotence of the eurozone’s economic governance. At the time, leaders had agreed on the need for reinforced coordination of economic policies and praised the “important role” of the European Investment Bank.

Hollande’s ability to deliver may also be limited by divisions within his own Socialist party. During the examination of the law establishing the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) on 21 February at the French National Assembly, Socialist MPs found themselves between a rock and hard place, torn between a European rescue fund which they consider desirable but whose use they consider ideologically marked by austerity policies.

The Socialist party chose to abstain, upsetting some Socialist MPs would were ready to vote for the text.

Other issues sidelined:

The renegotiation of the fiscal compact has tended to eclipse Hollande’s other proposals for Europe. The EU is currently negotiating the framework for the €1-trillion EU budget for 2014-2020, which Hollande would like to see invested in “future-oriented great projects”.

While Hollande has promised an “ambitious budget” for the Common Agriculture Policy, French Socialist MEP Stéphane Le Foll, who is close to the candidate, has said this does not mean defending its funding to the last euro. The EU’s farm policy currently absorbs about 40% of the EU budget, a figure the Commission would like to gradually reduce.

Hollande, like Sarkozy, backs a tax on financial transactions and would like its revenue to go to the EU budget. He also supports the creation of a European ratings agency, a proposal presented by Commissioner for the Single Market Michel Barnier which was ultimately withdrawn last September.

On the institutional front, Hollande has said he wants to combine the positions of presidents of the European Commission and of the European Council (currently held by José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy respectively) into a single office and that it should be directly chosen by MEPs.

Barnier has also suggested this, and advocates believe this would give the EU a more distinctive ‘face’ and strengthen its executive leadership.

Although it is not explicitly mentioned in his programme, the relaunching of European defence is one of Hollande’s projects. This choice “will mean a greater selectivity in our contributions to NATO,” says Jean-Yves Le Drian, president of the Brittany region and an adviser to Hollande on defence.

Defence issues will be on the agenda shortly after the elections, with a NATO summit planned for 20-21 May. If he is elected, Hollande is likely to use it to announce to allies the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan between now and the end of this year. Sarkozy plans for troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2013.

Closer ties with Germany: … (full long text).

* (François Hollande: on en.wikipedia; dans fr.wikipedia; in de.wikipedia).

Links: European Stability Mechanism ESM, on Europa.eu: A new permanent crisis mechanism, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), will be set up in the euro area as of mid-2013. Following a proposal by the European Commission, this was agreed by the euro area Ministers of Finance on 28 November 2010 … on en.wikipedia; Eurozone.

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