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Leaders for a Leaderless World

PARIS – The newspaper commentaries that I write often have a dark perspective. Sadly, this one will be no different. But there are two pieces of good news that break through the gloom.

First, the global significance of US President Barack Obama’s reelection is clear: the world has escaped a disaster for international cooperation. The US was on the verge of sinking into isolationist nationalism, reinforced, perhaps, by xenophobic sentiment. Obama’s victory, despite America’s economic travails, clears the way for cooperation based on a sympathetic ear to others and on negotiations in which the US does not deny the legitimacy of a global public interest (as it has done, unfortunately, on the issue of climate change).

The other piece of good news concerns France, and thus is more “local,” but is crucially important nonetheless. Like everywhere else in the developed world, the global crisis has hit the French economy hard, with output stagnating, unemployment rising, job insecurity mounting, government debt soaring, and the stock market at risk of crashing. Manufacturing production has plummeted, the trade balance has deteriorated sharply, and corporate bankruptcies are increasingly frequent.

For six months, France has had new leadership – a new president, government, and parliament. But President François Hollande and his government were strangely inactive after the elections, limiting themselves to reducing the impact of unfair budget cuts and taxation reforms implemented by the previous government of Nicolas Sarkozy. Many began to wonder whether Hollande was aware of the scope of the crisis that the recent downturn might trigger.