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If Hollande wins French election, Europe won't collapse – just shift a bit

Socialist François Hollande may well win the French presidential election. But don't expect a big brawl or gridlock with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over austerity and debt. Markets will keep Hollande in check. And then there's the tradition of German-French cooperation.


Socialist Party candidate for the presidential election François Hollande, left, and current President and conservative candidate for re-election Nicolas Sarkozy, right, pose before a televised debate in Paris May 2. Op-ed contributor Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff writes that 'the French and the Germans collaborated best when their leaders hailed from different political camps.'

Patrick Kovarik/pool/AP

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Last night, most of France watched presidential incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and challenger François Hollande battle it out in the big debate before Sunday’s vote. Europe, and arguably, the world, will be watching to see who comes out ahead when the two men face off in a run-off election May 6.

Socialist Hollande – who is ahead in the polls and favored as France’s next president – is not happy with the austerity economics preached by the more conservative Mr. Sarkozy and his like-minded German partner, Chancellor Angela Merkel. Those policies may have helped calm the financial markets and bolstered the euro as one indebted country after another has faltered – but they’ve also brought out street protests and slowed economic growth.

Conventional wisdom foresees a battle royale between France and Germany should Mr. Hollande win. But I expect something more like a subtle adjustment.

True, conditions seem set for confrontation in a Europe divided into two camps: the jailers and the bailers. The bailers want the European Central Bank, ultimately Germany, to stimulate growth and bail out ailing Latin Europe. The jailers, led by Germany, want to impose strict austerity until Club Med reforms.


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