The austerity regime in Europe took a big hit Sunday, with French voters electing Socialist Francois Hollande, while the Greeks, also voting Sunday, handed out pink slips to the ruling centrist coalition that has slashed government spending on EU orders.
Hollande will be the first left-leaning leader of France in 17 years, an awfully long drought considering the country’s reputation as a social democracy.
Votes are still being counted as of this posting, but President Nicolas Sarkozy has already conceded.
Hollande’s ascension is significant to the Greeks, who spent the day castigating their pro-austerity representatives in parliament and voting to support a variety of alternative parties on both the left and right.
Driven by conservative leaders in the U.K., France and Germany, “austerity” has been the watchword for Europe these last few years. Despite everything the United States learned in the 1930s and ’40s about the value of stimulus, lawmakers across the pond have been pushing their own version of austerity—“deficit reduction.”
The results have left something to be desired. Rather than stabilize the British economy, austerity seems to have pushed the U.K. into a double-dip recession, which Prime Minister David Cameron blames on the eurozone.
In France and Greece, voters seem to be rejecting the concept. Hollande promises to spend more and wants to renegotiate austerity agreements with Germany.
Perhaps like couture, will the political fashions of Paris somehow find their way to these shores? Not likely, with both presidential candidates agreeing to curtail spending on anything but the military and a few token millions for popular programs. In France, Hollande promised to hire 60,000 teachers and raise the minimum wage. That kind of boldness, whether politically feasible or not, is sorely lacking in this year’s U.S. election. Maybe there is a lesson in Europe for President Obama’s campaign team. Maybe not. —PZS
Supporters of Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande react after the first results of the second round of French presidential elections were announced at Place de la Bastille in Paris.