Merkozy for President?

Today a lot of the media really think Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel have cracked it, reporting that as soon as they've worked out a few differences over eurobonds and the ECB, we'll be well on our way to a fiscal union that will save the eurozone.


There's just a little problem here for Sarkozy, five months before an election, that most of the French papers seem to be glossing over - how on earth does he plan to sell this to French voters? A consolidated fiscal and budgetary union with Germany means adopting the tax and spending policies of a country that has raised its retirement age to 67, actually pays higher income tax then the French (France tops up the state's earnings through a fiendishly complicated system of national insurance contributions) and has a great deal less regulation to protect workers, including no minimum wage. 73% of voters polled by le Figaro (their own readers, so the people you'd expect to back Sarkozy's plan) said they supported the idea, which begs the question as to whether they've thought about what it would entail - the government has been pretty light on detail.


This is a country, remember, where the majority rejected the EU constitution in 2005, which was far from radical, because they were afraid of exactly this - deregulation, rule of the free markets, removal of the safeguards in French labour law that make it so hard to fire people - in short, Germanisation. That 'no' vote united a disparate selection of voters, from the Front National to the Communist Party, but their motivation was essentially a left wing one; the preservation of French public services and workers' rights. Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande has clearly calculated this is a demographic worth pitching to. He made a speech this morning at the SDP party congress in Berlin rejecting the idea of fiscal union and praising the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who said the EU had created a democratic deficit at the heart of Europe by moving decision making so far away from its citizens; Merkel and Sarkozy are now set to dig that gap a great deal deeper, as Hollande sees it. As Liberation reported today, he hopes to create a socialist alternative to the fiscal union plan - based on growth and investment rather than austerity. This might be a hard sell in Berlin,  where as today's les Echos noted, SDP voters are more worried about being forced to create eurobonds (a policy Hollande strongly backs) and thus provide a German guarantee on Italian debt.


That doesn't mean his idea doesn't have echoes in other countries. The Spanish and Italian left are already starting to raise doubts - El Pais today said Merkel was 'pushing so hard on the accelerator she's driving the union over a cliff' and La Repubblica rejected Mario Monti's austerity budget as unfair and undemocratic. At home, a French electorate long suspicious about the free market nature of the EU is bound to find it more appealing than the Sarkozy prescription for austerity. The problem is, if Hollande fuels voters' Euroscepticism too much, he may push them towards his far left rival Jean-Luc Melenchon, who's much more openly sceptical about globalisation, or even to Marine le Pen.


Nicolas Sarkozy faces a similar risk - any sign he's handing too much power over to Brussels or Berlin will panic a chunk of his electorate. In creating the supposed magic bullet to save the eurozone this week, he may have opened a can of worms that neither of the two main candidates for the Elysee can actually close.


This post is a personal reflection on the news stories I covered on this morning's edition of In the Papers on France 24 - you can watch the show here.


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