There will be no hundred days of grace for Francois Hollande. European stocks fell sharply on Monday as markets reacted to his electoral victory and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that she will not accept any dilution of the EU's fiscal discipline pact that Mr. Hollande has promised to renegotiate in order to include a “growth clause”.
Mr. Hollande faces many challenges, not least the next deadline on May 16 when France has to raise money for its debt servicing. Despite the downgrading of its AAA status, France has been able to borrow at reasonably low interest rates. Will jittery markets allow him to continue doing so? Mr. Hollande has several top-level meetings coming up, the G20 in June and the NATO summit where he will be at pains to explain to his partners why France will bring back its troops from Afghanistan a whole year early — at the end of 2012 — when every military expert has told him it is an unrealistic deadline.
But on the night of his election these niggling thoughts were buried away as people gathered in their thousands at the Bastille — the symbol par excellence of the French Revolution and, closer in time, of Francois Mitterrand's historic win in 1981 after 38 years of conservative rule.
Last night, the Champs-Elysees, the world's most famous avenue, was jammed with people celebrating Francois Hollande's historic win over outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy. But these revellers had none of the chic of your usual “champs” stroller. These were young men — often Arab and African — packed tight into battered cars, waving both French and the Algerian flags as they hooted and drove down the Champs to the Place de la Concorde, up to the Arc de Triomphe and then back down again.
These young men had not thought it fit to go to the Bastille, the symbol of the French Revolution where the victorious Socialists gathered to savour their triumph and where Francois Hollande delivered a speech at one a.m. calling for a unified France. Such has been the collective sigh of relief heaved by France's large African-origin and Arab community that its more demonstrative members felt they had to show their sense of triumph and their sense of belonging to France by taking over this bit of real estate usually reserved for tourists and the super rich.
“I am waving both flags. That's because I belong to both countries, both nations. You can say I am bilingual, bi-cephale and that I have two hearts that beat simultaneously — one for Algeria and the other for France,” said Mehmet, a 20-year-old student from Nanterre, a Parisian suburb. “Today I feel France has freed herself from the curse of Sarkozy. But now we must be vigilant about what happens in the legislative polls. I am not ashamed of my double culture, quite the opposite, and it is only when the French are able to accept that one can have many identities and be true to all of them that we can move forward.”
But several passers-by commented on the wisdom of flying both flags to celebrate a victory that was essentially French. “Just see how the National Front is gong to take this. I can just hear their tide of invective. Why give Front more grounds to spread its hate message?” asked a woman in her fifties.
But Mr. Mehmet was delighted with Mr. Hollande's opening promises. “I wished to be judged on two issues: youth and justice. There is only one France now, the Republic, where every person will be treated equally,” the President-elect declared at Tulle, his home constituency.
Mr. Mehmet and his friends have been trying to get others living in suburban ghettoes (where France in 2005 witnessed its worst riots in decades) to go out and vote. The one subject that has been missing from this campaign has been the four-million-plus people, mostly immigrants packed into urban wastelands, often treated as the detritus of society.
“We don't count because people of immigrant origin do not vote. Islam is a subject only in the negative sense because as a community we have remained voiceless. We are all French citizens. We must use our franchise. That will give us the power to make a difference. I hope Hollande and many of us have backed him will now back us,” Mr. Mehmet said.