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France’s Next President

Most French voters believe that the 2017 presidential election will be their last chance to revive France's influence in Europe and forge a new sense of direction. If opinion polls are to be believed, the winner will not be François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy, the two most recent presidents, or the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

PARIS – In a little more than a year, the French will vote to elect their new president. It is, of course, far too early to make any predictions. If “one week is a long time in politics,” as former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson is reported to have said, then a year is an eternity. And yet, given the high stakes of the outcome for France and Europe, a first assessment should be attempted.

If opinion polls are to be believed, France’s next president will not be François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy, the two most recent holders of the office. Hollande is the incumbent, but his performance has been disappointing on nearly all fronts, especially when it comes to tackling unemployment. Sarkozy’s chances are crippled by his unsavory character.

The French president under the Fifth Republic is, in British terms, both monarch and prime minister. He holds symbolic as well as real powers. Sarkozy failed, above all, to incarnate the Republic with dignity; Hollande has failed in the realms of both incarnation and action. To put it bluntly, a man who was simply “too much” was succeeded by one that was just “not enough.” As a result of this tandem, badly needed structural reforms have been left undone or were implemented only when it was too late.

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