It is a huge relief that Francois Hollande has won the French presidency. He has shown that a candidate of the left can win resoundingly in Europe, and there is a valid alternative to austerity. Although everyone predicts bruising clashes with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Franco-German relations (witness Kohl and Mitterrand) have often bridged the political divide between the Partie Socialiste and the German Christian Democrats.
I was in southern France over Easter and the friends I spoke to predicted Hollande would win, although neither of them had a great deal of enthusiasm. One of them, normally a Green voter, was uninspired by the Green Presidential candidate, an MEP and former magistrate called Eva Joly (a Jenny Jones lookalike with zany green glasses), and was not much more inspired by Hollande either, but she was definitely voting for him, in the second round at least.
Three things are surprising about French Presidential elections, aside from the fact that they are fought over two rounds: firstly the very high turnout by UK standards (more than 80% in 2012: the last time that number went to the polls in the UK was 1951).
The second surprise is that the French Presidential elections are some way ahead of the legislative ones (for the 577 seats in the National Assembly) on 10 and 17 June, which is very different from most other presidential system s such as the United States, when congress and the president are elected simultaneously.
The third is the all-consuming nature of the election. Although election fever had not really reached the small village in the Aude where I was staying, the election campaign was all the same very visible: all ten candidates for the First round are required to have their campaign posters displayed on metal boards on a thoroughfare in every single Commune in the republic (many such Communes are hamlets of a few hundred voters). Bizarrely, one of the official photocopied letters stipulating this on the local Mairie’s noticeboard was signed by then-President Nicholas Sarkozy himself (which felt a little like making David Cameron the returning officer in a UK Parliamentary election: a pretty scary thought).