Euro crisis, NATO troops: Why French vote matters

April 23, 2012 - 11:38 AM
France Presidential Election

French President and UMP party candidate for the elections Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at his campaign headquarters the morning after the first round of voting in Paris, Monday, April 23, 2012. French Socialist Francois Hollande has taken his plodding, undynamic campaign to become France's next president to within spitting distance of victory over the "hyper-president" Nicolas Sarkozy, finishing first in Sunday's initial round of voting. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

PARIS (AP) — France's presidential campaign has largely focused on pleasing voters at home, not the rest of the world. But whoever wins the May 6 runoff — conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy or Socialist Francois Hollande — will have a major global economy and nuclear-armed nation to run.

Here's why the race should matter to people outside French borders:

EUROPE'S DEBT CRISIS

France has one of the world's top 10 economies and is an engine of the eurozone, which is struggling to climb out of a debt crisis rattling markets worldwide. Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for a pact to tie European economies closer and force them to reduce their debts. Hollande wants to rethink that pact, saying it should focus more on state-sponsored growth. That could set up a collision course with Germany and European partners who have fought hard to restore confidence in the euro. Markets wobbled after Hollande won Sunday's first round of France's elections.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

A permanent, veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, France is a player in all major world diplomatic talks. Sarkozy doesn't hesitate to press allies in the West and the Arab world to sign on to French-led causes. Under Sarkozy, France improved relations with the U.S. and Israel, fired the first airstrikes in the international campaign against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and helped oust Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo last year. Sarkozy also has championed diplomatic efforts to stop the Syrian regime's crackdown on anti-government forces. Hollande has virtually no diplomatic experience and experts predict that, if elected, he would initially focus more on European affairs than on making major commitments farther afield.

NATO AND AFGHANISTAN

France is a major contributor to the international force in Afghanistan but is eager to get out. After French troops were killed by Afghans they had trained, Sarkozy promised to speed up France's withdrawal of its nearly 4,000 troops by the end of next year. Hollande wants to pull everyone out this year. Hollande is also unhappy with Sarkozy's decision to bring France back into NATO's military command after more than 40 years of a more independent policy, and he wants to cut defense budgets. A Hollande victory could significantly alter military relations with European allies and the U.S.

AND EVEN TOURISM

France's next president inherits one of the world's top tourist destinations, a capital of world fashion and cuisine and home to premier museums and chateaus. Will more shops be able to open Sundays? Sarkozy says yes, Hollande says maybe — and only if workers remain protected. Will sales taxes be hiked? These, too, are questions that lie in the next president's hands.