2012 in Perspective


By Staff Cartoonist Justin Walker

Historians like important dates, dates that will maintain significance in the history books, dates that mark ruptures and world-changing events. Technically 2012 is not a date; it is a sum of dates, a list of events that made the news, some of which will be remembered for years to come. As this year comes to an end, it is a good time to put those events in perspective in order to draw out the tendencies that made 2012 an important year in politics.

The main political event in France this year was, of course, the election of François Hollande as President of the Republic. For the first time since the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958, the Left is now in control of all the national powers (Presidency, Government, National Assembly and Senate) and most of the local governments (all but three regions, 60 departments, and the majority of big cities). But behind the success, tremendous expectations have been raised, while the majority faces a difficult economic and social reality.

Their success was made possible mostly by the rejection of Nicolas Sarkozy’s policies and politics. The former President had been so aggressive for five years that, despite all the reforms he undertook, he managed to spark hatred in a large share of the French population. He had also been so omnipresent that his party, the UMP, has been unable to get over the defeat and to reconstruct itself, with the risk of seeing the extreme-right National Front emerge and take over the leadership of the opposition.

Sarkozy left a difficult inheritance to his party and to the French political world. In his tenacious refusal of a predictable defeat, he chose to embrace the line of his counselor, Patrick Buisson, and abandon the traditional right-wing ideology. Sarkozy’s campaign – his legacy to his party – developed such a nationalist rhetoric that it managed to attract a faction of the extreme vote in the second round of the election. This has not been questioned but instead blindly adopted by the two contestants for Sarkozy’s succession at the head of the UMP.

This ideological evolution has generated a movement right in the French political spectrum: a new, moderate right has emerged to challenge the weakened UMP for supremacy over the Right. Meanwhile, François Hollande’s Government struggles between the expectations of real left-wing policies and the neoliberal context of the debt crisis and increased globalization. So far, the compromise has been in favor of the latter, with an austerity budget and the cuts to come from the administration. But let’s not forget the launch of an ambitious education policy and a strong increase in taxation before we judge the President too quickly for abandoning his leftist promises.

We knew this before the election: François Hollande is a man of compromise. And compromise was what he was faced with on the European level. During the summer, although he conceded the Stability Pact to Angela Merkel, he managed to re-equilibrate the strengths on the European Union chessboard. A new pact has been agreed upon, and the future of the Euro-zone has been looking better with each passing day. But the EU’s problems are not solved. The ambiguous Peace Nobel Prize victory has only thrown into sharper relief the persistent political incoherence and lack of democracy within the supranational structure.

The EU is not the only international structure to encounter difficulties. This year has been marked by the terrible failure of the United Nations to solve the crisis in Syria. Paralyzed by the antiquated Security Council veto system, the UN has been completely unable to prevent the deaths of thousands under the terror of dictator Bachar Al-Assad’s army. But Syria is not the only zone at war: Muslim extremists have destroyed Timbuktu mausoleums, tensions have risen between North and South Sudan, Japan and China are on the verge of a war over possession of small islands. And, of course, the situation in Israel/Palestine is as blocked as ever.

Meanwhile, each passing year witnesses more extreme weather events as climatic change is affecting the globe. This might be the biggest failure for international democracy. Globalization has created a united economic world, but there is no united political world to regulate it. The economic sphere is therefore easily playing on the competition between states to impose its short-term objectives upon the long-term necessities that are now shared by most of the analysts. Even after the dramatic financial crisis of 2008, politicians have not understood the crucial necessity that democracy be applied at the same level where the most important decisions are made.

As a consequence, the situation has not evolved much and one can bet that, in the near future, new financial and economic crises will arise, wars will not be avoided, and climate change will continue unmitigated. Therein lie the limits of our democracy: it created scales and temporalities unfit to deal with the long-term worldwide challenges that we face today. This is why President Hollande’s polling is down; because neither he nor President Obama has ‘fixed the economy,’ they can only work with what they have: 19th century political structures in a 21st century economic context. And 2012 did nothing to change that.


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