The 6th of May 2012, will undoubtedly go down in history as the day the political landscape of Europe changed dramatically, as the anti-austerity movement grows in the continent’s most economically turbulent countries. Mass protests have rocked Spain, while David Cameron’s coalition recently faced massive losses in local elections. But perhaps the most important changes have come from France and Greece, as it seems the Left has finally found its voice after many years of intense searching.
In France, Socialists finally have something to celebrate as Francois Hollande swept to victory in Paris, the first Socialist candidate to do so since Mitterrand in 1981. Nicholas Sarkozy is now the 11th European leader to lose power since the financial crisis began in 2008, and many, including myself, are wondering who will be next.
Hollande claims to be “the president of the youth of France” and his anti-austerity rhetoric has caught the attention of Europe’s disgruntled youth, but also of Europe’s cautious political leaders, not least David Cameron who openly supported Sarkozy’s bid for President. This could potentially have huge repercussions for Europe’s struggle for economic unity, as Hollande has vowed to fight austerity and re-negotiate the fiscal treaty, placing him in a confrontational line against Germany. As the euro zone relies on the Franco-German relationship, this could have devastating consequences unless an agreement is reached.
Hollande built his campaign with promises of raising taxes on big corporations and France’s wealthy elite. He also wants to raise the minimum wage, hire 60,000 more teachers and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers. There is little doubt then that his goal is to be a President of social justice.
Although there is no doubt that Hollande’s victory has made many nervous, the real shockwaves have, inevitably, come from Greece. The two main parties, occupying the centre ground, attracted less than a third of the popular vote, leaving the New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, with the unenviable task of forming a coalition. The problem is that even if he gets the support of Pasok, Greece’s other traditional party that is pro EU, he still won’t have enough seats to form a coalition.
The radical leftist party, Syriza, came second with 16.8% of the vote, leaving it with a sizeable minority in parliament. Made up of a coalition of several factions, including communists and progressive socialists, the Syriza leader, Alexis Tsipras has so far rejected attempts to form a government with the conservatives.
However the far Left aren’t the only ones benefiting from the eroding moderate parties. Golden Dawn, an ultra-nationalist, neo-nazi party, has entered parliament for the first time since the end of the military junta in 1974, with 21 seats.
Greece’s already rather turbulent stock exchange plummeted by 8.3% amidst fears of weeks of political instability in the country and the growth of the far left as a political force. But the effects could be seen throughout Europe, as the German Dax fell by 1.2% and the yields in the secondary markets for Greek 10-year bonds went up from 20% to 22.2%.
On a personal level, I find it rather ironic that the European Union, which was formed in order to prevent another war in Europe, has indirectly caused the election of the far right in Greece, with the equally as far right le Front National gaining 18% of the vote in France. Needless to say, the shift towards the far left, and what appears to be a lesser shift to the far right, has been caused by crushing austerity and economic instability unseen since the 1930’s, which has inevitably lead to the erosion of centrist parties.
May 7, 2012 / Deepi Virk