French voters chose Socialist Francois Hollande as their new president Sunday in a race that will have implications for Europe’s debt crisis, the Afghanistan war and global diplomacy. Hollande, largely unknown outside French borders, beat out conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.
A few reasons why the outcome matters in France and beyond:
EUROPEAN DEBT CRISIS: Hollande could reshape the debate in the 17-nation eurozone. Until now, France and Germany – led by Sarkozy and Angela Merkel – have set the agenda on how best to restore troubled state finances and sluggish growth across the continent. The “Merkozy” solution: More cost-cutting to bring down debts and reassure markets. Hollande’s solution: government-sponsored stimulus to revive growth.
DIPLOMACY: Hollande is a diplomatic unknown who will set a five-year course for his nuclear-armed country with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Sarkozy is arguably the most America-friendly French leader in a half-century. He has aligned with Washington on Iran and Syria, upped France’s military presence in Afghanistan and took a major role in NATO’s air campaign over Libya that helped oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Hollande wants to bring French troops home from Afghanistan early and might be less vigorous in flexing military or diplomatic muscle abroad.
TAXES: Hollande wants the very rich to pay 75 percent in income taxes and plans to hike taxes on companies that distribute profits to shareholders instead of investing in their business. Sarkozy had pledged to reduce France’s overall tax burden, among the highest in Europe, but promised a higher sales tax.
IMMIGRATION: Sarkozy wanted to halve the number of legal immigrants who enter France each year to 100,000 and to tighten border controls. Hollande would give residency to illegal immigrants on a case-by-case basis. The immigration debate has gotten tangled with a debate about Islamic customs in strongly secular France, home to at least 5 million Muslims.