Crowds gathered across France last night (Sunday) to celebrate the presidential election defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy.
A lynchpin of the European austerity drive, Sarkozy’s presidency had been increasingly characterised by racism and overtures to the extreme right.
François Hollande won close to 52 percent in the second round of voting. He now becomes France’s first Socialist Party president since François Mitterrand left office in 1995.
Hollande’s victory is part of a growing backlash against austerity across Europe. But what is he promising?
“Austerity need not be Europe’s fate,” he told crowds on election night. Hollande’s programme includes plans to renegotiate measures agreed by eurozone nations to deal with the sovereign debt crisis, placing more emphasis on economic growth.
During the campaign he argued that the rich would have to make sacrifices. He has pledged to increase taxes on banks and big corporations, and to raise the top rate of tax to 75 percent for those earning more than 1 million euros.
The retirement age will also revert back to 60 from 62, but only for those who have worked for 41 years.
His proposals for job creation, meanwhile, are timid—60,000 education posts over five years and 150,000 jobs for young people. Unemployment stands at over 4 million.
Hollande has been at pains to stress that he is not a danger to the markets. He has promised to balance state finances by 2017. This will mean severe spending cuts, running to tens of billions of euros.
Hollande has been elected against a backdrop of growing political polarisation. On the right, Sarkozy’s defeat leaves his UMP party in disarray ahead of the parliamentary elections in June.
Highly reliant on the personality of Sarkozy, the UMP now faces internal divisions over what attitude to adopt towards the fascist Front National, which won 6.4 million votes in the first round of the election.
During the campaign, the Socialists conceded ground to Sarkozy’s racist agenda. Hollande argued that in a crisis, “limiting economic migration is not just necessary, but essential”. He also pledged to enforce the ban on women wearing the niqab and the burqa in public, to keep halal meat out of school canteens and to retain detention centres for “illegal” immigrants.
The ability of the radical left, which won over 12 percent of the first round vote, to provide an alternative to Hollande’s “fair austerity” will be a key element in shaping the struggles to come.