By Antoine Pogorzelski
Last Sunday, June 17, two major elections were held in European countries France and Greece. The results have great impacts. Whereas the French election for Parliament was expected to give a large majority of seats to the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste – PS) and allow newly-elected President François Hollande to implement the policies he had made his campaign about, the Greek one was carefully watched all over Europe, because it determined what Greece will do to solve its long debt crisis and its structural changes.
Both elections were recognized as a victory for the challengers: Hollande’s party won a large majority in Parliament (314 seats out of 577 for the PS and its allies), whereas Antonis Samaras’ right-wing party (New Democracy) won the election with a figure slightly higher than its main opponent (29.66% against 28.69%). But most of the European leaders are relieved that he won over the far-left party, Syriza.
It is the first time in the history of the Fifth French Republic that left-wing politicians are holding all the political powers in their hands. Indeed the Senate, a long-time right-wing dominated institution, was overwhelmed by a Socialist wave in the last elections of 2011. Moreover, regions and départements – in the administrative division of France, a department is one of the three levels of government below the national level, between regions and cities – are mainly governed by Socialist leaders. This means that the Socialist government will not have any difficulties to pass their bills in Parliament, and that the laws passed will not face any opposition in the Senate, departments and regions. French voters, who were mostly less than expected, gave Hollande all he needs to implement the changes he ran in the elections for. Despite falling enthusiasm, the voters brought coherence.
In Greece, the elections brought Antonis Samaras – the pro-austerity leader of New Democracy – to form a government. The main theme in the campaign was obviously dominated by the debate over the Greek and euro crisis, with the left-wing party Syriza being opposed to austerity measures that Berlin, Brussels and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are urging Greece to take. The election was supposed to ease the fears that investors and politics have of a Greece leaving the euro zone to devaluate its money, leading to a world financial crisis. But nothing is done yet: Samaras needs to have a majority in Parliament and form a wide-range government to overhaul Greece’s financial situation by reducing public wages and spending. If he can form a government and have a majority of seats in Parliament (with the left-wing party Pasok, pro-austerity), Greece will receive an international aid fund from the troika – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF. But many obstacles are still planted in the way to the recovery, for instance many Greeks withdrew their money from the banks (amounting to hundreds of million euros) just before the election, fearing the disappearance of their savings, making savings not available for investments.
Different visions regarding the way to solve the debt crisis in Europe now face both challengers of the elections. François Hollande would like to gather the 27 members around the eurobonds – collectivizing European debts – and growth as a condition to pay back one country’s debt to another one. If the solution seems popular among people and Socialist leaders, it is not sustainable according to strong leader Angela Merkel and right-wing politicians, among whom Samaras is included. They argue that only austerity measures can tackle the debt crisis, and that a balanced budget amendment – the idea that a state cannot spend more than its income – should be written in the Constitution of European states. According to the latest news, the austerity measures and the balanced budget amendment are the most likely to be implemented in a short-run vision, as French Prime minister, the German-speaking Jean-Marc Ayrault, recognized that eurobonds won’t be on the agenda “before many years.”