Last week in France’s presidential elections, the Socialist Party’s François Hollande defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy to usher in France’s first left-wing president in nearly twenty years. The ideological change in leadership comes at a critical time for both France and the EU, and will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the EU and its relations with China.

Carnegie-Tsinghua’s Shi Zhiqin hosted a roundtable discussion featuring Jan Techau, director of Carnegie-Europe in Brussels, Jin Ling, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, and various other experts. The panel discussed the outcome of the recent elections and the potential impact the leadership change will have on Sino-French and Sino-EU relations.

Swing Toward Socialism in France

The advent of the Socialist government in France stands in stark contrast to the European trend toward right-wing parties, marked the panelists.

  • Future Reforms: Several of the panelists noted that Europeans are curious as to whether Hollande is prepared to make the necessary reforms to save France from its social and economic woes. Due to the domestic economic downturn, a strong protectionist attitude has emerged in France. Hollande would like to take a Keynesian approach to economic reforms, but money is not available for such amounts of government spending, stated a panelist. Because economic policy is largely controlled by Brussels, they added, Hollande does not have much room to maneuver.
  • Sino-French Relations: A panelist explained that since China believes that the leading party is “socialist,” the future of China-France relations will be positive. But it would be unwise to make assumptions of shared ideologies between the two nations, said another panelist. In the past, France has criticized China for its political system and cultural practices. Though economic relations between the two countries may grow under Hollande’s administration, as last year’s trade grew by 23 percent, a stronger political relationship will be difficult to forge due to large cultural and political discrepancies between China and France. Chinese scholars wondered if the new president will be tougher on China than Sarkozy, and asserted that France will benefit from further economic relations with China.

The European Context of the Euro Crisis

  • Dealing with Crises: One panelist explained that the EU is currently facing economic, political, and social crises, and that the entire concept of European integration is being challenged. The EU was originally intended to evolve to feature the political integration of European nations. Now, the panelist added that the monetary union can no longer function unless political integration is achieved. Overall, the biggest challenge to EU legitimacy is the lack of democratic participation at the EU level by citizens, stated another panelist.
  • Franco-German Alliance: One European panelist observed that France and Germany have been the two dominant nations in the EU for years, and that now the balance is shifting in Germany’s favor. With its strong economy, Germany has always led the EU in terms of economic policy, and is currently heading the EU economic reforms, despite disagreement from smaller nations. Another panelist added that France has traditionally been seen as the bridge between the north and south in Europe, and it is unclear how the shift in regime ideology will affect the partnership with Germany as well as other EU nations.
  • Rethinking Sino-French Ties: Several panelists agreed that Hollande’s administration seems likely to improve bilateral economic relations, but important cultural differences will still stand in the way of stronger political ties. Criticism from the West prompts China to admonish it in return, though European scholars insist the criticism is not intended to weaken or undermine Beijing—it is in Europe’s best interests to trade with a strong China. Any attacks on economic, political, and social issues within China are simply aimed at the domestic audiences of those Western nations, the panelists stated.

Discussant: Jin Ling