Hollande: The president who would be normal
SOPHIE QUINTIN ADALI
To understand the lack of French reactions to Turkish advances to mend high-level relations, it is important to take a closer look at the man the electoral system propelled to the top to become the seventh president of the Fifth Republic: the man who, in his own words, would be a “normal” president.
After wallowing in Sarkophobia, the left-leaning press corps now enthusiastically contributes to the image-building exercise of the Elysée Palace. There is no escaping images of a “normal” president taking the train for his two-week break on the Côtes d’Azur or casually bumping into Alain-the-vegetable-seller at the local market. But what does “normal” mean in political terms? In a country with a strong statist tradition, normalcy starts and ends with the state.
In this sense François Hollande is the epitome of “normal.” Unlike Sarkozy but like many of his predecessors, he is a pure product of the state system. A civil servant of middle class background, he chose Socialism of the left to network his way to the top. After graduating from the ENA school (1980) he entered the cozy world of hyper-bureaucracy (France has 30 percent more civil servants than the European average) to master the art of speaking well to say nothing and importantly spending other people’s money with little regard to actual results.
Amongst his Socialist peers his vagueness and indecisiveness earned him the nickname of “Flamby” after a brand of soft custard dessert. Further to his lackluster spat as first secretary, a thinner Hollande won an election characterized more by the rejection of the Sarkozisme than anything else. Once again, a quintessential apparatchik, i.e. a civil servant and professional politician with no experience in the private sector, reached the pinnacle of the state. Naturally his policies seek to increase the role of the state and its size with more state jobs (60,000 new posts for the Ministry of Education).
As 19th century liberal economist Frédéric Bastiat observed, “The state is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” In 21st century France, the politico-administrative élite does it cleverly and legally.
Appealing to the core Socialist militants working for the vast state apparatus is a must hence the electoralist posturing about “not linking the rich.” Ironically his own estate puts him in the top tier of society in terms of personal wealth but reality is not important. By “rich” he means entrepreneurs who, in an over-taxed, over-administered country, somehow manage to succeed. By contrast he likes capitalist barons whom he receives at the palace to grant - or not - the favors (rent) they seek. In an economic environment of crony capitalism, François III is the big state, to paraphrase Louis XIV.
There is growing concern that his “normal” government does not have a clear strategy to face the predicted economic and financial storm. A recent poll reveals that Hollande’s popularity is already dwindling. On the international stage, his “normal” style has baffled experts and often looks like Mr. Bean clumsiness, as aptly noted by the editorialist of Templeton Prize-winning online paper ContrePoint.org. No one is quite sure how a “normal” French foreign policy will shape up.
The question of the new president’s stance on Franco-Turkish relations notably remains unanswered. His inability to reform the obese state, curb the mounting sovereign debt and free a stagnating economy will no doubt end in hardship for the French people. Yet his legendary indecisiveness and softness may just be what bilateral relations need at this juncture. After counterproductive years with a Turcophobe “hyper” president, Hollande the “hypo” president can only lead to “normalization.”
Sophie Quintin Adalı is an analyst for www.unmondelibre.org, the Francophone project of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.