Europe could be in for change, if voters in three different countries over the weekend have anything to say about it. In France, Greece and even Germany, they ousted candidates who supported austerity and opted instead for messages advocating growth.
Bloomberg reported Monday that in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy went down to defeat by Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who ran a campaign that espoused growth, not cutbacks, and said after the results were announced that he would persevere in promoting growth.
Sarkozy was the first president of France in more than 30 years to fail to win re-election, and his was the ninth head to roll in the past two years in the euro zone as turmoil over the debt crisis exacted its toll on government leaders.
Hollande is the first Socialist in 17 years to win control of France’s government. He took approximately 52% of the vote, and told supporters after the election, “Europe is watching us. Austerity isn’t inevitable. My mission now is to give European construction a growth dimension.” He promised to pursue growth rather than austerity.
He could have a tough time delivering on that pledge, depending on the outcome of elections for seats in the lower house of Parliament scheduled for a few weeks from now. Sarkozy’s party has vowed to keep fighting, and they could make it difficult for Hollande to turn his back on austerity policies—although, according to Alastair Newton, political analyst at Nomura International in London, it is more likely that Socialists will win there too, offering Hollande a more “left-leaning stance.”
Greece too chose to repudiate austerity, giving an unexpected amount of support to the Syriza party and putting it ahead of the Pasok party of Evangelos Venizelos, who negotiated the country’s second bailout package. Syriza means “Coalition of the Radical Left,” and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, said in the report, “The people of Europe can no longer be reconciled with the bailouts of barbarism. European leaders, and especially Ms. Merkel [Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany], should realize that her policies have undergone a crushing defeat.”
Although Syriza came in second, its unexpectedly strong showing gives it clout that could make it difficult for the government to keep promises it made in exchange for that second bailout. Tsipras, who is determined to stop the bailout, also urged Greeks not to be “blackmailed” by threats of a departure from the euro. Just two weeks ago he was quoted saying, “The crisis isn’t just Greek, it’s European.”
He added, “There will either be a collective, sustainable and fair European solution to the public debt issue or it will collectively fall apart. The Greek people should understand that this blackmail is false and they must stop blackmailing them with a supposed exit of just Greece without the destruction of the euro.”