This weekend the first round of the French presidential election has taken place. Socialist Hollande came out first by just a bit but betting is he will win also by a bit in the second round. Already commentators are either crying he would be a “disaster” or just another reorder of the deck chairs.
The preceding elections in Europe, mostly of those states in financial difficulties, have seen the fall of the old ruling parties or leaders and their replacement with new leaders. This year will see additional national and regional elections or changes in governments. These major European elections will be a harbinger of political change in Europe with large potential for a reordering of the political and economic landscape in ways that are yet hard to predict.
In France, the current President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an Ipsos poll before the first round, was running behind the Socialist leader Francois Hollande by some 12% points. The gap was much smaller in the actual election. The sad part is that Sarkozy has only himself to blame as he has been tilting to the right – including nasty statements about “immigrants” and other efforts to gather supporters from the extreme right candidacy of racist Marine Le Pen of the National Front. He carried out the same tactics in his first statement after the election results. Le Pen’s forces came in third and the question remains: will we see a turn to the right and its anger coalescing into a viable long term negative political force?
Hollande, for his part, has also rightly criticized the counterproductive policies of Germany and France in pushing overly harsh austerity economic and financial programs in already hard hit states like Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Italy. He has called on the European Central Bank to support those states directly by buying their bonds and moving towards a policy of growth rather than the stupidity of the present austerity efforts which have only depressed the impacted economies as they implemented the killing depressive strictures forced on them by Merkel and Sarkozy and other “Austrian economic school” right wingers. There is, frankly, a lesson for the American economy and politics in this European struggle and its consequences.
But Hollande had competition on the far-left in Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front, who has energized the left with his more populist vision and his passion. But he did not reach the second round on May 6th, and pundits are predicting his votes will largely go to Hollande in the second round. But Melenchon has galvanized the disenchanted and a fundamental anger of the unfairness of the present French system and society.
The more important question is whether the political changes that we are seeing in Europe are sufficient to change the downward equation which the blind policies of forced austerity have imposed and which have continued and sharpened the “Euro Crisis” because they have so far failed to rejuvenate the EU economy. None of these policies helped those who have been hurt by the excesses of the banks, the right-wing politicians pandering to their paymasters, and the indifference of so many of the rich and powerful to the social ills of their societies.
The other question must be whether there is an alignment of forces and of public support for an agenda which puts growth above austerity as a main but not only way of getting out of the present crisis. But beyond that is whether there is what I will call a “unifying critical mass of social and moral conscious’ that can propel forward not only a more just society but also institutionalize that consensus into effective long-term governance.
That achievement might bring not only a new and different EU, but spur a wider movement to reach out to address our global challenges more effectively and thereby create a more safe, humane, and healthy global environment. It might be nice for America to join such an effort if Americans have the wisdom to elect a president and congress which put balanced growth, fairness, security, and global responsibility in the forefront of its agenda.
By Harry C. Blaney III.