Why the French Presidential Elections Are Irrelevant

On Sunday, France will vote for their two favorite candidates to compete in a run-off. The presumed winners are François Hollande, candidate for the Parti Socialiste, and Nicolas Sarkozy, incumbent and UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) candidate. The second election takes place on May 6 – that is, if no candidate wins a decisive majority of votes in the run-off.

But none of this matters. In fact any of the 10 candidates running on the first ballot (perhaps with the exception of Marine Le Pen) could win the presidency – and not much would change.

France is embroiled in the euro debt crisis, and its current focus is deciding how to resolve Greece’s massive debt. Although France is the second-strongest economy in the euro zone, it has largely left political and economic decision-making and power to Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Sarkozy have met to discuss the euro crisis frequently (sparking the nickname Merkozy) but have left saying the same thing: austerity.

President Sarkozy has followed Chancellor Merkel’s lead in calling for further austerity measures, even as Greece is buckling under high unemployment and a destroyed economy. All of this pain leads to inevitable discussion about ending the euro zone, but that’s another issue.

All in all, the role of the French presidency is so tied up with international and regional issues – on which there is little room to maneuver. Regardless of whether the new French president is a conservative or liberal, he will need to stand with other European leaders in making decisions about the future of the euro. External political pressure will almost certainly continue to push the French president into following Germany’s strong lead.

What’s more, the recent killings in Toulouse has reignited nationalist tendencies in both conservatives and liberals, and a new president will likely address French xenophobia by cracking down on “outsiders.” Any move against French nationalism will be widely criticized.

The French presidential election is little more than a formality, particularly in the context of a larger financial crisis and impending recession. Compounding this notion is the fact that all of the candidates are dutifully ignoring the country’s impending financial problems, focusing instead on broad strokes illustrating what France should be in the future.

A political film noir

The saddest part of the French presidentielle is that voters will be going to the polls to vote on issues like immigration, the tax code, and France’s position in the world (not influential enough, the candidates assure). These issues will likely be swept aside by the torrent of debt problems Europe will need to face over the next five years.

Instead of placing France’s election in the broader picture of European economic turmoil and uncertainty, voters and candidates have chosen to stay strictly domestic – a choice that does the future president no favors. At the end of the day, regardless of who wins the French presidential election, Germany’s booming economy and strong leadership will lead the euro debate. 

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Lydia Austin

Lydia is a graduate of the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and the former Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow in Economic Policy. She currently works at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. She cares about wealth inequality, our broken tax system, and promoting a more equitable society.

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