The leadership of Europe in the balance

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As Socialist Ségolène Royal, and Gaullist Nicolas Sarkozy face off in a two-week contest to see which one will be the next president (or presidente) of France, what is at stake goes well beyond the borders of France.

Britain and Germany, under Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, represent an ambitious pro-American tendency within the European Union. The election of Nicolas Sarkozy could be decisive in bringing about a transformation of the European social model, and the subordination of Europe to a renewed transatlantic pact.

Since General Charles de Gaulle, as the first directly elected president of the Fifth Republic set the tone, and established the vision for the exercise of the effective powers of office, the French president has given Europe its orientation and direction.The traditional Gaullist position, though right-wing on domestic policy, questioned U.S. imperial policy, and the role of the dollar in world finance. French Gaullists were willing to organize coalitions to counter U.S. influence.

For instance outgoing Gaullist president Jacques Chirac, acted with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, a Social Democrat, to oppose the second invasion of Iraq, a move that created space for Canada to keep its troops out of Iraq.

De Gaulle had long rejected the Cold War inspired division of the world into Soviet and American spheres of interest. He refused to countenance American hegemony over Europe, and saw France creating a European counterweight to superpower dominance of the world. To this end he vetoed British membership in Europe, and established a French-German alliance to build what became the European Union.

When the Cold War ended with German re-unification, François Mitterrand negotiated with Chancellor Helmut Kohl the replacement of national currencies with the Euro to avoid a situation where the economic strength of the new Germany with its super strong currency, the German mark, would render its European partners subordinate to its economic policy.

As the American dollar weakens, the Euro represents the major challenge to the dollar as the world money. Lest it be forgotten, the dollar has been the main instrument of American imperialism, allowing the U.S. to finance its military expenditures abroad and its takeovers of foreign businesses, through the build-up of dollar holdings outside the U.S.

Despite his party affiliation, Nicholas Sarkozy is more neo-liberal than Gaullist. His European perspective has been shaped by Davos, Switzerland, and the World Economic Forum, the staging grounds for corporate globalization. He is not a noted student of the superior economic performance of the Scandinavian welfare states.

Reportedly, Sarkozy would be open to a wide-ranging free trade pact between the U.S. and Europe, which if precedents elsewhere give any indication, (i.e. NAFTA) will see investor rights over-ride European parliamentary authority.

By backing Blair and Merkel, Sarkozy will be undoing the Gaullist vision of a Europe independent of the U.S. Instead of German-French leadership building a stronger Europe, the world would witness the Gaullist nightmare of Britain acting as the stalking horse for U.S. interests, and making Germany its accomplice in weakening Europe as an anti-U.S. imperial force in the world.

Ségolène Royal represents the strengthening of the European social model, and resistance to neo-liberal globalization. As President of France she could block Blair, who is not going to be around for much longer, and find allies within Europe to balance off Merkel.

On May 6, France will choose between Royal and Sarkozy. In June, a new French National Assembly will be elected for a five-year term. The first round of presidential voting saw François Bayrou, the supposedly centrist candidate (his party, the UDF has long been allied with the right) garner 18.5 per cent of the vote, while the Communist vote, allies of the Socialists disappeared down to one per cent.

In order to win the presidency Royal will need more support from the centrists than she is likely to get. At this point her best chances for victory lie with getting out the combined left vote (36 per cent in the first round), winning a sizable share of the centrist vote, and seeing the extreme right supporters of Le Pen (10.5 per cent) and deVilliers (2.25 per cent) stay home rather than vote Sarkozy, despite his efforts to woo them.

Whatever the result, Royal will lead the Socialists into the coming French legislative elections and will be an important voice in the European debates. Ironically, she, not Sarkozy now best represents the Gaullist tradition in French foreign policy.

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