In the second round of the French presidential elections there was much more at stake than the political careers of the Socialist François Hollande and the rightist Nicholas Sarkozy.

The results of these elections will influence the path to be followed in order to emerge from the economic and financial crisis now affecting Europe, which will then influence the path that the old continent must trace to overcome this situation.

It is early to hope for any profound change,  although some strong critiques have already been formulated against the policies of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, backed by her French colleague Sarkozy, both representing the European right.

Holland had occupied various roles in the first years of the government of President François Mitterand and in November of 1997 was elected First Secretary of the French Socialist Party.  From there he became a Vice-President of the Socialist International and was a Deputy in the French Parliament and in the European Parliament.

In the last presidential elections Segolène Royal, his partner at the time, was the socialist candidate for the top post, defeating Dominique Strauss Khan, but in turn she lost the election to Nicholas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy occupied several posts in the rightist governments before his own, such as the ministries of Economics and of the Interior.  He is a controversial figure in and outside of his country.

He enlisted France in the war against Libya, even though he had invited and received with due honours the Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, leading to a deal with respect to petroleum.

During the war against Libya one of Gaddafi’s sons revealed that his country had contributed several million dollars to Sarkozy to finance his election campaign and asked that these be returned since they had been given as a token of friendship.

At the same time Sarkozy had established a close relationship with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and both had pushed for economic policies that have been strongly questioned.

The situation in Europe

The measures taken to respond to the European crisis have two principal protagonists: the German Chancellor and the outgoing French President. And though these measures were unanimously approved, they are now the object of strong criticism.

Hollande has said that he intends to renegotiate the pact concerning budgetary discipline to include other measures that can stimulate the economy and employment, and has stated that "there will be a change in the direction of European policy."

He also said that if he won the second round in the [French] elections "I will renegotiate the treaty, Merkel knows this and if I am elected my first visit will be to Germany to inform Germany of the will of the French people for a different Europe."

Merkel in turn said that she is preparing a "growth agenda" for Europe and that she is willing to grant a larger role to the European Investment Bank in the measures to be taken to overcome the crisis.

The reasons for Merkel’s position are obvious, as the European situation has come to a point in which there is a real fear of a split between the European countries of the north and the south, as the European Parliament’s President Martin Schultz declared.  Schultz is a German Social Democrat.

Schultz does not trust the US economic and financial bodies, and noted that if this split were to happen "the European Union and the Euro zone could collapse" he advocates common solutions.

The evidence that the policies of Merkel and Sarkozy have failed is clear, as was strongly expressed in the May day celebrations.

In Italy it has already been pointed out that the country now has three times as many shacks and mobile homes as it did three years ago.  In 2001 there were 23,336 families living in these conditions.  Now there are 71,101.

Suicides have increased in Italy and women whose husbands have committed suicide have formed a group called "widows in white", who agreed to march on labour day.

But there are protests all over Europe because wages are low and unemployment has increased with the application of the policies of austerity,  policies employed by the extreme right to gain supporters.

At the same time, the German Chancellor is looking for a way to achieve what some analysts have called "a subtle change of tone" for her proposals, considering the change of government in France, but which could also reach her own country and indeed herself.

From Mitterrand to Hollande

The French Socialist Party was in office only once, when François Mitterrand was elected President in 1981 and reelected in 1988, finishing his two mandates in 1995.  He was the fourth President of the Fifth Republic and François Hollande, who was campaign manager for Mitterrand, will be the second Socialist president and it is believed that his victory can influence the political affairs of other European countries.

It must be recalled that when Mitterrand became President in France, European socialism or social democracy was on the upsurge worldwide. The Socialist International had expanded to every continent and was regarded with suspicion and attacked by the United States.

Governments of this colour came to power in other European countries, as well as in Latin America and Africa, as later in countries that had been part of the former Soviet Union.

Integrated into the Socialist International, this became an institution on which the United States, politically speaking, had declared war, even though there were some episodes that have had several interpretations.

The key persons in the expansion of this organization were the German Chancelllor Willy Brandt, the Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreiski and the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.  The well-known "Dialogues" among them formed the basis of the international organization, which was not related to those groups integrated into the Soviet Union.

The parties involved began to win elections on every continent, especially in countries which had freed themselves from dictatorial regimes imposed by US intervention.

The death of Willy Brant from cancer and the assassination of Olof Palme were two factors that weakened the organization, alongside the economic policies put in place by international bodies.

But today, as this model is now in crisis, there are new expectations.  There is speculation that a victory of the German Social Democrats in the next elections and the victory of Hollande in France can serve as a point of departure.

– Frida Modak is a journalist; former press secretary of Chilean President Salvador Allende.