Thursday, May 24, 2012
The latest one is on the new French President, François Hollande whom the media calls ‘Mr Normal’.
After the G-8 Summit at Camp David, Reuters titled: “France's ‘Mr. Normal’ stands out in diplomatic debut”
What does ‘normal’ mean?
Hollande was born in a middle-class family in Rouen, Normandy. His father Georges Gustave Hollande was an ENT specialist involved in extreme right local politics. The young Hollande revolted against the strict religious education imposed by his father; it is probably ‘normal’.
Later Hollande did the most brilliant studies in the top French educational institutions: the HEC (High Institute of Commerce), the IEP (Institute of Political Studies, Paris) and the ENA (National School of Administration), the most select school in France producing the cream of the cream of bureaucrats, diplomats or CEOs ; he topped. Is it ‘normal’?
Rather unusual in France: before graduation, Hollande went as a university student to the United States in the summer of 1974.
And another abnormal aspect of Holland, he lived with Ségolène Royale, the loser of the 2007 presidential battle against Nicolas Sarkozy, without getting married!
Hollande and Royale, who spent some 25 years together, have 4 children. They had met while studying at the ENA. Some newspapers speculated: if Fate had been different, Royal could have attended the G8 Summit in the US and Hollande would have been the ‘First Boy Friend’. But that’s tabloid news.
It is probably during his tenure as the Socialist Party’s First Secretary that Hollande learned the trick of being a man of consensus; there, he had no choice, with all the different factions and ‘currents’ trying to express their divergent views, often threatening to pull apart the Party.
It is these qualities that he will require to govern France, par excellence an ungovernable country; and this since the time of the Gaullish tribes.
The leitmotiv of the Socialist candidate during the electoral campaign was to put an end to “austerity everywhere, austerity that brought desperation to people throughout Europe". For him, one of the problems of ‘austerity’ is that it creates a depressive mood.
Today, Hollande has perhaps a chance to change the tide.
Though against the principle at the national level, during his first Council of ministers, President Hollande advocated that ‘austerity’ should start at home. He reminded his colleagues of his promise of "dignity, simplicity and sobriety".
The Council voted from something unusual (for India at least): a 30% cut in the salaries of all ministers as well as of the President.
A masterstroke, analyzed many observers (Hollande's predecessor had increased his salary by about 170% at the time of joining office) and for the first time, half the appointed ministers were women (17 out of 34).
Further, the Ministers were asked to adhere to a strict code of conduct regarding official ‘gifts’ (‘not more than 150 Euros’) and ‘private’ invitations. Ministers were asked to travel by train whenever possible and, if travelling by car, to respect the road code. Hollande had given the example by ordering his convoy to stop at red lights when he drove through Paris on his way to the Elysée palace for the investiture ceremony.
A two-page ‘rules’ asks the ministers to respect “the existence of a line of confidence between the citizens and those who govern them, …these simple principles that should guide your behaviour", the note said.
This does not seem ‘normal’ in India.
The Government was also requested to avoid internal squabbles. "The expression, direct or indirect, of disagreements can only weaken the government and provoke the skepticism of people with regard to the credibility of political action …Once a decision is made … the principle of solidarity comes first.”
Well, well, well! One can hope that a translation of this note will be prepared in all the official languages of India.
After Hollande’s first G8 Summit at Camp David (Maryland), Reuters reported: “Despite some awkwardness, Hollande appeared to pass his initial diplomatic tests. He claimed victory after G8 leaders backed his calls for more economic stimulus in Europe, and forged an apparently jovial relationship with President Barack Obama.”
The first words of the Summit’s communique: "Our imperative is to promote growth and jobs."
The French President told a news conference: “I think the G8 was fruitful and enabled us to send a twin message. There will not be growth without confidence and there will be no confidence without growth."
Commentators thought that Hollande’s “conciliatory, understated manner” was a positive departure from his impulsive predecessor. Comparatively, he was normal.
It will not be a rosy task for Francois Hollande to take over as the second Socialist President after Francois Mitterrand in 1981.
President Hollande did not have any ‘grace period’ like his predecessors had. He immediately plunged into the European mess and more particularly in the state of the Greek economy and this possibility of Greece dropping out of the Eurozone. On the evening of his investiture, Hollande jumped into the French ‘Air Force One’ and took the direction of Germany.
Unfortunately, a few minutes later, his plane was struck by lightning and had to return to the base. He used another plane to have his first encounter (and dinner) with the pro-austerity German Chancellor.
France’s relations with Germany and the European Union are now bound to change. Soon after Hollande’s take-over, the spokesperson of Angela Merkel stated that there was no question to come back on signed treaties, particularly on ‘financial discipline’.
But can Europe continue the German way?
Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman believes that the elections in France and Greece: “were in effect referendums on the current European economic strategy, and in both countries voters turned two thumbs down.”
He adds: “It’s far from clear how soon the votes will lead to changes in actual policy, but time is clearly running out for the strategy of recovery through austerity — and that’s a good thing”.
And the relations with India in all this?
As Hollande was returning to France after his visit to the US for the G8 and NATO summits, the visit of Indian Air Chief Marshall NAK Browne was announced. The IAF Chief is to have talks with the new French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian; the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud and his counterpart, General Jean-Paul Palomeros.
This comes at a time when the final negotiations for largest-ever defence project are on. India is to acquire 126 Medium-range Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for which the Rafale of Dassault Aviation has been selected.
Defense has always been a key component of the Indo-French partnership. During a visit to Delhi last year, the same Admiral Edouard Guillaud quoted Kautilya: “An unfailing ally is one who receives and provides help because of old bonds, friendship and generosity”. He explained that India and France not only “share similar ideals of freedom, democracy and cultural diversity”, but the two countries also have common objectives, namely “a safer world.”
Will Hollande follow his political guru, Mitterrand’s footsteps? An article published in Le Monde on May 22, 1981 titled: “India chooses the Mirage 2000 to modernize its Air Force”. A day earlier, Francois Mitterrand had become the first elected Socialist President of the 5th Republic.
There are many things that India and France could do together, in the field of defence, but also in economic, cultural and scientific domains. Let us hope that the new French President will grab the opportunity.