From Paris to Athens
7 May 2012
Which was the most important election on 6 May? The new French president, François Hollande, is on the front page of virtually every newspaper in Europe, in the wake of his victory over Nicolas Sarkozy. Noblesse oblige, you might say, because the economic and political weight of France is such that major change in the country inevitably has an impact on the politics of the European Union. And even more so in this instance, because the French have elected a socialist who has campaigned for a growth policy to counterbalance austerity. In this context, the coming weeks will likely be marked by preparations for the European Council in June and discreet negotiations between European leaders on the best manner to create economic growth.
However, this schedule may be disturbed by the result of another 6 May vote, the general elections in Greece. Whereas Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat can in part be explained by the “curse” that currently weighs on outgoing leaders in Europe – in the last two years, only Poland’s Donald Tusk has succeeded in winning an election – Sunday’s Greek vote has all the trappings of a revolt against the country’s political system. Thus the result is particularly bad news for the EU and the IMF, which, in spite of its faults and responsibility for the current crisis, depend on this political system to implement the economic and restructuring measures demanded of Greece in exchange for financial aid.
At first glance, François Hollande’s victory could be a godsend for PASOK or New Democracy, both of whom need to demonstrate that they can exert some influence over demands made by the troika. But with barely a third of the vote between them, and a combined total of just 152 seats in a parliament where a majority requires 151, in all likelihood they will be unable to form a coalition in the event that they decide to do so. On this basis, it is hard to see how they can derive any advantage from the impact of Hollande’s election.
Now that PASOK, which won elections in 2009, has been relegated to third place by the radical left, and in view of the fact that power in any future parliament will be fragmented among small parties, including the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, the most likely outcome of the 6 May vote will be yet another election, and one that can only add to the ongoing uncertainty in Europe.
Fears over respect for the conditions of the bailout supervised by the troika and Greece’s future in the Eurozone were immediately apparent on financial markets in the aftermath of the election. In Berlin, the Chancellor’s office was quick to point out that there was no possibility of renegotiating the budgetary pact signed in March. So if there is a debate on growth, it will be one that is conducted in a difficult context. And the French socialist joy expressed in yesterday’s celebration at the Bastille may be short-lived.