So I am not proclaiming to be some sort of expert on French politics or even to know that much about Sarkozy or Hollande, but I was surprisingly moved tonight. It was amazing to watch Francois Hollande be inaugurated as President-elect of the Republic of France. He won 52% of the popular vote, thus being elected on the first round with a total electorate of 80.5% it seems. (voter turnout is a tremendous feat of democracy in itself and something the UK system could learn from!). This is a man who is anchored in a rural community, was flown into candidacy unexpectedly at the last minute, and from what I have seen has carried out his campaign with modesty, honesty and a refreshingly cogent alternative to the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.
He arrived in Tulle in a modest VW Golf, walked through the streets with the people and delivered a strong message for growth, social liberalism, political ethics and rebalancing of European politics. I think its clear Cameron, Merkel and others should take huge note – his speech tonight seemed to be 30% for France and 70% for Europe. The political paradigms will undoubtedly be changed in Europe. No longer will we have the cosy right wing stance of pro-austerity policies and unregulated economic systems. Instead what seems to be emerging is a strong left of centre voice that wants to, as he himself puts it, “reorientate Europe towards growth, employment and the new generation…”
Now I’m not making an ideological declaration of support towards Hollande or socialism, but I am taking a stance based on current empirical evidence that shows fast and deep European austerity isn’t working. Now I accept robust debt reduction strategies will be one key tenet of a holistic recovery package, however, we must do this with stimulus, opportunity and growth. A country cannot recover economically or socially with high unemployment, an increasing welfare claimant count, reducing health and wellbeing and stagnating social mobility. These are the offspring of austerity. Even here in the UK, many of us feel the Osbourne-esque approach has failed. Governmental growth projections have been missed, unemployment is higher than expected and young people have never felt more disengaged or shunned by politicians. We also see worrying signs across the Eurozone with countries like Spain presiding over more young people in unemployment than in jobs. This is bad for the economy and us failing our children.
If Governments and economists want economic progress and recovery, then we must look at the generational sustainability of our economy. We must see youth as part of the economic solution, not merely part of the problem. I think Hollande could signal a step towards this vision if he can genuinely translate his words in to actions. Lets create jobs and tackle the poverty of aspiration that seems to be growing amongst our young.
Organisations like dare2lead are working hard to connect youth across the world and unlock the potential of a generation in what are difficult times. We are successful in developing employability skills for young people, raising aspirations and dreams of our potential young leaders and importantly giving them the practical opportunities to influence the decision making process. My plea is a simple one – governments across Europe must meet us half way. We need opportunity alongside austerity. We need hope alongside prudence, and we need investment alongside restructuring.
This is what I hope the “Hollande economic formula” can represent. A redefinition of recovery. He said only 10 minutes ago in his first Presidential address that “you all should judge me on two measures, justice and youth.” I commend any world leader for putting youth at the heart of governing a country. Young people are any nations’ greatest natural asset and are the key drivers of social and political reform. Without an informed, economically active and aspirational youth-body, then why are we trying to fix the economy at all? Young people fully inherit these structures tomorrow and therefore must also be instrumental today. Any political ‘solution’ that merely consists of pulling up the opportunity ladder behind them is simply protecting what will ultimately be a false economy.
In closing, I hope tonight people will see tonight’s election results not an opportunity to spew ideological positions, predictable tweets or personal attacks, but to embrace the democratic decision. Lets be pragmatic and think collectively around how this change – that sees Francois Hollande elected French President – can be the catalyst for a positive and progressive influence on political discourse. Monsieur Hollande, you must keep your promise of youth and opportunity throughout your tenure. We care and we are listening. We wait to see how you will invest, support and encourage young people right across Europe and the world to dare to lead and build the society and economy we want to see.