French president-elect Hollande promises 'kinder, gentler austerity' (+video)
As leader of Europe's No. 2 economy, French President-elect François Hollande has the power to challenge German Chancellor Angela Merkel's austerity doctrine.
Sunday's elections in Europe mark a change in the political map here. French voters elected the first Socialist president in 17 years and angry Greeks rebuked mainstream parties associated with crippling deficits, bailouts, and spending cuts, voting in record numbers for radical left and neo-Nazi parties.Skip to next paragraph
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Although the common sentiment in both elections is a rejection of austerity, the implications are quite different. While French elections represent a new power center in Europe on the center-left, Greek elections represent further political disarray in Europe’s southern tier.
The French voted in François Hollande, who promised a “new direction for Europe,” blending growth policies with the austerity model adopted under German direction. Mr. Hollande was congratulated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call yesterday and invited to Berlin, a trip Hollande’s team says he will waste no time in taking.
US President Obama also phoned the French president-elect and said he looks forward to hosting him at the White House before a G-8 summit at Camp David and a NATO summit in Chicago, both later this month.
European nations have slashed public spending the last couple years in an attempt to bring mounting public debt under control, but they have not seen the business and consumer spending necessary for a recovery. Unemployment rates have climbed, and economic growth has stalled, with some economies even contracting.
Mr. Hollande, a pragmatic social democrat and Keynesian, advocates what analysts call a “kinder, gentler” austerity. He is unlikely to make any radical changes to France's public spending.
His promotion to top job of the No. 2 economy in Europe makes him the first European leader able to challenge Germany’s Angela Merkel, and brings to an end Europe’s “Merkozy” duo of Mrs. Merkel and outgoing French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who have steered Europe through the economic crisis. Merkel’s own ruling coalition showed signs of weakness yesterday, with a poor showing in local elections in Schleswig-Holstein, ahead of national elections next year.