Socialist candidate Francois Hollande has won the French Presidential election, defeating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, yet another political victim of the Eurozone crisis.
After the early exit polls showed a 52-48 victory for Hollande, Sarkozy conceded defeat and called Hollande to wish him luck running the country. Hollande had won the first round of the elections two weeks ago, the first time an incumbent had lost the first round of the French Presidential elections. The success of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who garnered 20% of the vote in the first round, gave Sarkozy a glimmer of hope that he could prevail in round two, and he in particular tried to appeal to Le Pen’s voters by veering right on immigration. But Le Pen’s voters largely lodged a protest vote against European economic measures, which held close association with Sarkozy. Le Pen never endorsed Sarkozy, while far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and centrist candidate Francois Bayrou both endorsed Hollande.
The election has implications for Europe. In truth, Sarkozy and Hollande did not differ all that much on budgetary policy – both of their proposed budgets balanced in the same year, 2017. But Hollande said he would attempt to stimulate growth early on, while raising taxes on the rich afterward. And more important, Hollande vowed to reassess the EU fiscal pact, which demanded a specific budget target for each member country. With many of those countries in recession, this pact put austerity on auto-pilot and would almost assure a long period of unnecessary suffering in countries like Spain and Italy and Greece. It’s almost for them that the Hollande election holds more hope of a true change. Germany may need to rethink their austerity-driven policies as Angela Merkel’s major partner, Sarkozy, vanishes from the scene.
This was reinforced by the outcome of Greek elections today, where the major parties took a beating, and parties opposed to the austerity program in place moved to the fore.
The latest figures showed New Democracy leading with between 19 – 20.5% of the vote, followed by the radical leftist party, Syriza, with as much as 17% and socialist party Pasok with between 13 – 14 %. And for the first time since the collapse of military rule, ultra-nationalists were also set to enter parliament with polls showing the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) capturing as much as 8%.
With the nation wrestling its worst crisis in modern times, the big winner appeared to be Syriza, which had campaigned ardently against austerity and was poised to become the second biggest party in Athens’s 300-seat House.
So when actual European citizens had a chance to make themselves heard today, they opted against the status quo, against austerity and for anyone who would tell them that there was another way. Change is not assured, however. European leaders basically engaged in a silent coup, overthrowing governments in Greece and Italy with technocrats that installed their programs. The Greek situation is muddled and unclear, and Hollande, whose actual policies are only mildly to the left of Sarkozy’s, may not follow through on his plans to reopen the fiscal pact and pressure German and European Central Bank leadership. But the conversation has changed in Europe away from austerity and toward growth – even the ECB’s Mario Draghi talked up growth in their last meeting. And Hollande’s success has already accomplished that.