French voters in Czech Republic favor conservative Sarkozy over winner Hollande

François Hollande, photo: CTK

On Sunday, Socialist contender François Hollande swept to victory in France’s presidential election. However, French voters in Prague favored the conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Why are French citizens who cast their ballot in the Czech capital more conservative, and what is the significance of Socialist Hollande’s win?

François Hollande,  photo: CTK
“The sovereign people has expressed its opinion – long live the Republic, long live France”–current French ambassador to the Czech Republic, Pierre Lévy, speaking after the victory of Socialist François Hollande in France’s presidential election on Sunday.

The mood in Prague’s French embassy was not celebratory, however: While the Socialist contender defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy by nearly 3 percent in France, those French voters who live in the Czech Republic favored the conservative leader over winner Hollande. Some 53 percent of French citizens who cast their ballot in Prague voted for Sarkozy. The newly-elected socialist president only took some 47 percent of the French vote in the Czech capital, as opposed to the 51.62 percent he gained at home.

Gaëlle Vassogne, a French academic who lives and works in Prague, says that this result is mostly due to the socio-economic strata French citizens living here belong to.

“It has to do with the kind of French people who live in Prague, the kind of socio-economic tier that they belong to. We are talking more conservative people, richer people, and the percentage of businessmen among Prague’s French population is higher than in the general population in France. Sarkozy is generally more favored among them and among conservative voters in general.”

Hollande has pledged to push back against German-led austerity policies and take an approach that is orientated towards fostering growth in Europe. Ahead of his victory, the French socialist vowed that he would write a letter to the leaders of the other 26 EU members proposing a “growth pact” to be added to the fiscal compact that was signed earlier this year.

Vladimír Špidla
The former Czech EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, Vladimír Špidla, who now leads a left-leaning think-tank, says he welcomes Hollande’s election. However, he believes it is hard to predict what changes he will be able to push through.

“Of course, it is complicated, since there are legislative procedures that are necessary before some of these changes can be made. So it is very open, but I am sure without a doubt that Hollande will lead France towards a democracy of social responsibility.”

It remains unclear if Hollande has the momentum necessary to press German chancellor Angela Merkel, who openly favored the conservative Sarkozy, towards a shift in the EU’s budget policy. Academic Gaëlle Vassogne believes that Hollande’s influence in the economic realm will not be as great as some may hope.

Nicolas Sarkozy,  photo: CTK
“I do not think that he is going to have a lot of leeway to complete change the policy, especially in terms of economic policy. The interesting thing is that he has promised to reinforce the public service in France, as compared to what Sarkozy has done, especially in the area of education. So we will see and we hope that this will be possible.”