ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Europe after Sarkozy

François Hollande is France's fi rst socialist president since François Mitterrand left office in 1995 but he comes to power at a time of renewed challenge for France and the European project as a whole. Even with the best of intentions, it seems unlikely that he will be able to match his supporters' expectations.

It is a common misconception that the French are a naturally left-leaning people. To outsiders, it seems selfevident that the country that bequeathed the French Revolution, the Paris Commune and the intellectual engagement of Jean-Paul Sartre to the world must be a crucible of left-wing values. The contemporary image of France as a land of inveterate and cantankerous trade unionists has merely reinforced such an interpretation.

On closer inspection, however, much of this haze melts away. It is true that France has always had what the historian Tony Judt called “a culture of the left” but it is one that has long been marginalised politically and rejected by the majority of the French population. Even the apparent potency of the trade union movement is a myth: France has one of the lowest rates of trade union membership in Europe. The bitterness of French strikes and the anger of their rhetoric is a consequence of weakness rather than strength.

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