Live

Watch CBSN Live

The French elections

I know they get a bad press in the States sometimes but I love the French and I love France. I have a house there and in many ways it is one of the most civilized countries on earth.

It is a proud nation, just like America and just like Britain, and its people don't like being pushed around. And to my mind that, rather than any renewed love of socialism, helps explain the election of Francois Hollande as the first left of center President for almost twenty years.

It has been seen rightly as a kick-back against the tough austerity measures the European Union is imposing on its members. To many French people that is what they would call the Anglo-Saxon approach. For Anglo read English-speaking, and for Saxon read German.

The French way is to think of the social implications as well as the economic ones. Cut the deficit yes, but protect the most vulnerable in society and don't make the poor bear the brunt of the cuts. Hollande believes deficit reduction can and must go hand-in-hand with policies that stimulate the economy, promote growth and create jobs. In that he's arguably closer to President Obama than the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

So Hollande's victory has encouraged some to think that the left is on its way back in Europe more widely. But I'm not so sure. The French electoral system forces voters to choose, in the final round, one of just two candidates. But in the first round candidates outside the two main parties did better than ever. The same happened in Greece where the big parties of left and right suffered massive losses on Sunday night.

For a couple of years now, including here in Britain, people have been voting against the status quo but haven't given any of the parties that normally form governments their trust. If the new French President can show that he has a coherent, alternative solution to the economic woes we all share and that it works, then the left may indeed be on the way back.

If he can't, then there's a risk that the public will become ever more distrustful of the politicians and the economists who think they know best. In a democracy the voters are the jury. And while the result in France may have looked like a clear judgement, if you ask me the jury is still out. 

View CBS News In