This weekend's surprising election results may have permanently upended Europe's plans for economic reform as voters are making it clear that they are sick of austerity. For the first time in decades, France has put a socialist in charge of its country, which has the potential to push the whole continent back toward the left after several years of conservative cost cutting measures.
One of the key changes brought about by the election of François Hollande as the new president of France is that it breaks up the alliance between current president Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel of Germany, who (along with Britain's David Cameron) have been leading the push to fight Europe's debt crisis with painful cuts to national budgets. (Merkel's party also took a big hit in local elections this weekend too.) As leaders of the two biggest eurozone economies, they controlled the control the purse-strings that led to bailouts of weaker nations like Greece — bailouts that came with a steep price of harsh cuts to cherished social services. All the while, the debt problems have only gotten worse.
As for Greece, voters there dealt a huge blow to the two major ruling parties that had spent months trying to negotiate those bailouts and sell them (rather unsuccessfully) to their people. The government is now so fractured that a neo-Nazi party managed to secure a sizeable foothold in the new parliament. With no one party having enough support to seize control and no obvious coalition available to take charge, it will be quite a challenge to even form a government this summer, let alone one can shepherd the nation through its financial woes.
The same even goes for Hollande, who won his election by pressing for growth over cuts, but may find it difficult to avoid many of the same traps Sarkozy fell into. While he campaigned against the idea of more austerity, some are predicting that the reality of the euro situation and the always fickle world markets will limit his options for real change. Still, as Benedict Brogan of The Telegraph writes, the message behind his election can't be overlooked.
Yes the difference between him and Nicolas Sarkozy in policy terms is marginal, but perception is everything. The Right has taken a hit this week, the Left is delighted. This will change the dynamic of European politics in far-reaching ways.