Voters punish incumbents in several European elections

Two major elections in Europe last week promised change for one country and more confusion for another, as the Eurozone continues to struggle with its economic crisis.

In France, former President Nicolas Sarkozy was replaced by Socialist candidate Francois Hollande. According to a May 6 article from The Daily Beast, Hollande won with about 52 percent of the people’s vote.

Erik Tillman, a political science professor at DePaul, said Hollande’s victory was not a surprise. As election day got closer, Hollande rose in the polls, and Sarkozy’s approval rating continued to falter because of France’s economy.

During the campaign, Hollande promised to undo some of Sarkozy’s policies. For example, he wants to lower the retirement age to 60.

“He wants to increase taxes on high earners,” Tillman said.

Many of Hollande’s primary policies are related to the economic crisis. Instead of adhering to “the fiscal pact” with Germany, which requires all Eurozone countries to maintain a budget deficit below 3 percent of the country’s GDP, Hollande wants to focus more on growth. To do this, Tillman added, there needs to be some deficit spending on things like teachers and infrastructure.

“They can’t do that if they have to reduce the budget deficit,” he said.

Because of this sudden desire for change, there is already tension between Hollande and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two leaders have opposite ideologies, according to Tillman, and there might be some pressure on Merkel in the future to loosen her restrictions on the deficit.

“She’s lost an ally,” Tillman said.

Meanwhile, in Greece, citizens are still bearing the brunt of the Eurozone crisis. According to economics professor Animesh Ghoshal, the government is still failing to obtain enough money to reduce their deficit and manage the debt they owe to other countries.

Because they haven’t met the requests of the International Monetary Fund to make the aforementioned changes, Ghoshal thinks Greece might eventually get cut off.

“They cannot raise enough money to meet their bond obligations,” he said. “It’s not collecting enough in taxes to pay for its government expenditures.”

“I don’t see any way of any solution over there,” he added.

Because of this attitude, the effect of the economy on the elections is undeniable.

“This has caused people to be unhappy and throw out the government in power,” he said. “Here it’s just a matter of what the people in power can and can’t do.”

However, Greece’s elections last week proved inconclusive at a time when they need security. The two traditional parties “took a beating,” according to Tillman, and no other party produced enough of a majority to rule. Unless the current parties can form some sort of coalition, elections will be held again in June.

“If they have another election … it’s hard to see how the pro-bailout parties would do any better this time around,” Tillman said.

Another disconcerting aspect of the election, according to Tillman, was that extremist parties like the Golden Dawn received 7 percent of the country’s vote. In the last election, they only received 0.3 percent.

Tillman believes crisis forces citizens to desperation, which makes the country more vulnerable to extremist governments.

“There’s a lot of anger and a lot of frustration and not a whole lot of solutions,” he said. “They just want an end to the crisis.”