Being a geopolitical analyst and forecaster often means having to explain to people in America how and why a single event in Africa, Russia or China will directly impact them. One such event is the French presidential election set for May 2012, for which the opposition Socialists have just selected their candidate, Francois Hollande, in a final round of open primary voting.
For most people, the knee-jerk reaction to an event on the other side of the world is, "Why should I give a toss what happens in France? Also, they are Socialists and promiscuous, so there's that." While such foreign-policy prowess might be a hit at the local pub, would it really be smart to ignore an election that will impact everything in your life for which you pay or require borrowed money? Bear with me as I explain why this is the case.
No one really knows who will be the French president by this time next year. The French haven't been keen to elect a Socialist to the highest office since Francois Mitterrand in 1988, and polls strongly suggest that they aren't now. If anything, they'd be voting against Nicolas Sarkozy, whose ideas and promises they like, although they often fail in their transformation from hot air to something tangible. The French are also tired of the near-weekly "casseroles," as they call the regular scandals involving the Sarkozy entourage. But they don't seem to want National Front leader Marine Le Pen either -- a nationalist and nanny-state socialist who has proclaimed Obama to be more right-wing than she is, and whose platform has gradually revealed an aversion to free-market principles. Le Pen blames the world's problems on capitalism rather than heavy-handed government meddling, and believes the solution is more government intervention. That leaves the Socialists in a shocking position of being a viable alternative, if only because the bar has been brought down to ground level. If Sarkozy's ratings remain low, and the ruling party ultimately decides to replace him, the current dynamics might change quickly.
In all cases, the future of Europe depends on this French election. Le Pen openly fantasizes about a euro zone breakup, a position supported by many French people who loathe the idea of paying other countries' social nets, while the Socialists and Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement party both want sheer political will to hold Europe together as it careens toward collective bankruptcy at hypersonic speed, money flying out of the fuller pockets and into emptier ones.