A Call for an Anglo-German Axis
At the heart of Europe, the Franco-German alliance is withering in the heat of the crisis. The ox and the ass have traditionally pulled in unison, dragging behind it other member states towards tighter fiscal and political integration. Central to the success of this pairing has been a series of shared economic and social values, as well as the personal relationship between the country’s two leaders: Mitterrand and Kohl; Chirac and Schroeder; Sarkozy and Merkel.
Now, the beasts of burden are pulling in opposite directions, stalling the pace of development at a time when the continent needs to be more united than ever, precisely because of a bridge between the philosophy and ideology of the French President and German Chancellor. Angela Merkel believes in the necessity of austerity and structural economic reform – privatisation, social security reform, labour reform – in nations like Greece and Portugal which binged on cheap credit in the early years of the euro and are now sick with the consequences of their reckless actions.
François Hollande, on the other hand, stresses the need for deficit spending and urgent cash injection from bodies including the IMF and EU, in order to prevent Europe from slipping into a double-dip recession. The nation that would more likely than not have to pay for all this additional output would, of course, be Germany. There is compromise to be had – a limited amount of short term deficit spending for countries that agree to longer-term reforms akin to Germany’s Hartz and Treuhand programmes, as well as the full implementation of the Fiskalpakt – if only the leaders of these traditional enemies can reach it.
In the continued absence of such a deal, a historic opportunity has presented itself for a realignment of power in Europe. For, whilst Hollande demands that Europe spend additional monies it does not possess (to use Merkel’s thinking), David Cameron is enacting at home the very kind of austerity measures and cutbacks Merkel would wish the southern European nations might soon adopt themselves. Thus, it is conceivable that Britain and Germany might formulate a new power axis which could lead to the construction of a better Europe based on fiscal and personal responsibility, individual freedoms, and democratic principles.
Anti-Semitism after Toulouse
Following the cold slaughter of three children and a rabbi outside a Jewish school in Toulouse last March, the theory was widely propagated that the Islamic identity of the assailant working in tandem with the toxic anti-immigrant political atmosphere would inculcate a fresh climate of hostility towards the non-white French, and Muslims in particular.
Jewish community leaders have complained in fact that over the past three months France has witnessed an uptick in violent, anti-Semitic attacks. For example, on June 3 in Villeurbanne outside Lyon, ten attackers armed with hammers and crowbars set upon three men wearing yarmulkes, causing injuries to the head and neck.
Richard Prasquier, President of CRIF – the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France – noted that there has been “a series of acts like the one in in Villeurbanne”, with Richard Wertenschlag, the Chief Rabbi of the Grand Synagogue in Lyon adding that the current atmosphere is “unbearable”.
After Hollande’s Win, What Next for Netanyahu?
François Hollande’s pledge to renegotiate the European Union’s fiscal compact is unlikely to threaten the long-term stability of the Franco-German relationship. For both the new President of France and German Kanzler Angela Merkel, the urgent need to assist the Mediterranean states, whilst hold together the single currency and thus the Union at-large will trump Hollande’s electoral play.
Rather, the fall of Nicolas Sarkozy will be of greater concern to Jerusalem than to Berlin. Franco-Israeli relations have had their tense moments – de Gaulle’s arms embargo after the Six Day War; Chirac’s support for Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein – but under Sarkozy, the two nations maintained a healthy working relationship. Sarkozy’s infamous open-mic slip – “Netanyahu, I can’t stand him. He’s a liar” – seemed to be just that.
During his five years in office, Sarkozy sought to make commitments to Israel’s security by ending the arms embargo and became personally involved in the effort to free Gilad Shalit, whom he called a “son of France”. Whilst opposed to a military strike, on the Iranian dilemma and the threat posed by nuclear escalation in the Gulf Sarkozy was closer to Netanyahu than even the United States, with Tony Karon noting in Time that he had “taken the lead in pressing [for] sanctions that have had a painful impact on the Iranian economy”.
France, But for the Grace of God
And there, but for the grace of God, goes France.
Two things to take away from last night’s debacle. First, in electing Francois Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy by a margin of 51.63 to 48.37 (closer than many of those who observe the French political scene predicted, though I if it counts for anything, never believed that Hollande might win in a landslide), the French people have done everything possible, in effect, to destabilise the European Union, the single currency, and the Franco-German relationship.
Already, Hollande is speaking of ripping apart the vital fiscal pact that will guide Europe along a necessary path to financial balance and responsibility — this will surely only frighten and weaken international markets, further chipping away at a single currency with already crumbling foundations.
Second, in his victory speech, Hollande said:
France chose change in electing me president.
It seems evident, however, that in turning down austerity and a messy renegotiation of the social contract, the French people have in fact flat out rejected any sort of change (if Sarkozy was genuinely offering that, I suppose we will never know), in favour of more of the same: tax hikes, artificial job creation, and deficit spending. In this respect, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
After Toulouse, Reviewing the Politics of Hate
The slaughter of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse, and the emergence of a Muslim suspect who claims ties to al-Qaeda, has focused a piercing light on the temporarily halted presidential campaign, and specifically the heated rhetoric that has characterised the argument over immigration.
Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to win over disgruntled Front National voters, has moved decidedly rightward on this subject. Appearing on France 2’s Des paroles et des actes, he proclaimed that integration in France was failing since there are “too many foreigners on our territory”. He proposed to “divide by two the number of people that we welcome”. In the same vein, in a later campaign speech Sarkozy threatened to pull France out of the Schengen zone.
The President even engaged in a debate with Le Pen over kosher and halal meat, following her assertion that “all the abattoirs of the Paris region have succumbed to the rules of a minority”. After initially dismissing her claims, Sarkozy flip-flopped, calling for all meat sold in France to have labels outlining the method of slaughter.
The Prime Minister, François Fillon, was promptly dispatched to repair relations with the Jewish and Muslim communities, yet the damage is already self-evident. In a campaign marked for its lack of ideas or substance, racial and religious minorities became the subject of demonisation and delegitimisation. Sarkozy’s Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, went so far as to openly use the old nationalist axiom, “les Français ne se sentent plus chez eux” – “the French no longer feel at home”.
Sarkozy and the “Jewish vote”
Statistics released by the SPCJ in France present a mixed picture for the country’s Jewish community. 2011 witnessed a 16.5% drop in the number of reported anti-Semitic incidences from 466 to 389, the lowest figure in ten years. But the number of violent attacks levelled out, and there was in fact an upturn in terms of the severity of the violence exhibited.
With the presidential election two months away, the progress and concerns displayed in the SPCJ report ought to play into the hands of Nicolas Sarkozy. And, if he is to be re-elected, given recent polling data demonstrates he is some 15 points behind his main rival François Hollande, he will need to re-enliven France’s Jewish community, one of the constituencies which helped elevate Sarkozy into office in the first place.
Of course, the French do not vote in blocs by race, religion, or creed, and there is no ‘Jewish vote’ to speak of. Nevertheless proportionally, France’s Jewish community is more conservative when compared to the nation as a whole. 40% claim to identify with the values of the UMP – the party of Nicolas Sarkozy – whilst only 26% of Frenchmen nationwide feel able to say the same. After Roman Catholics, Jews have proven over time to be the second most reliable constituency for the French right.