A Greek in the Netherlands who struggles with the bad weather every day..
France and Greece vote today
MAY 6, 2012
spokesman.com (Henry Chu from Los Angeles Times)
For more than two years now, they have all imposed their will on Europe’s raging debt crisis: German leaders. Panicked governments. Jittery financial markets. Bossy international agencies. The people? Not so much.
Across the continent, officials have forced through brutal budget cuts despite mass protests from Paris to Prague. In Greece and Italy, technocratic prime ministers have been installed without a single citizen going to the polls. Of the 25 European nations that have agreed to a new treaty limiting public spending, only Ireland is bothering to let voters rule on it. But today the people of France and Greece will have their say, in elections that have the potential to recast the debate on how to solve an economic unraveling that shows little sign of abating.
“Democracy is on its way into the euro crisis,” said Hugo Brady of the Brussels office of the London-based Center for European Reform. “While we don’t know what that means, it does mean the end of a solely technocratic response to it.” The elections are likely to see new leaders brought to power on pledges to revisit their countries’ strict adherence to the austerity and fiscal discipline prescribed by Germany as the cure for Europe’s ills. Popular backlash against the German fixation on austerity has been building momentum for months, in nations whose hurting middle classes say the cuts have only added misery.
The unemployment rate in the 17-member eurozone is at a record high of 10.9 percent. At least half a dozen eurozone nations, including Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, have tumbled into a double-dip recession. Increasing numbers of economists and analysts warn that the single-minded focus on belt-tightening is stunting growth, and without growth there is no way out of Europe’s financial hole. Many politicians have taken up that theme, coming around to a view that their exhausted constituents have been shouting and marching about for months. Greeks have seen their standard of living plunge after multiple rounds of budget cuts demanded by creditors as a condition of Athens’ two international bailouts.
Antonis Samaras of the conservative New Democracy Party, which leads the opinion polls for today’s parliamentary elections, has alarmed some European officials by vowing to renegotiate elements of the rescue deal, which he says is killing, not saving, the Greek economy. Anger over the harsh conditions has also boosted the fortunes of several fringe parties that are expected to win a crop of seats in the Greek parliament. But even mainstream politicians are challenging policy decisions made in Brussels rather than in national capitals, or by powerful leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“It’s not for Germany to decide for the rest of Europe,” declared Francois Hollande, the French left-wing Socialist candidate who is expected to defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in today’s runoff. Although leaders and governments in other countries have fallen over the last year because of voter dissatisfaction with austerity, their replacements have not succeeded in changing the direction of Europe’s approach to the debt crisis, in part because Merkel and Sarkozy stood firmly together. With public opinion behind him, Hollande has promised to reverse some of Sarkozy’s cutbacks. Throwing down the gauntlet to Germany, Hollande also wants to revise the new treaty to cap public spending, which Merkel considers the cornerstone of her crisis-fighting policy.
France: Anti-Sarkozy Vote?
In France, incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing his Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande in the run-off of the French Presidential Elections, with Sarkozy trailing Hollande by 6 percentage points in polls Friday. After eight other candidates were eliminated in the first round on April 22, Hollande has led Sarkozy in every poll conducted throughout the campaign. Hollande, after gaining the endorsement of centrist Francois Bayrou, who had won 9.1% in the first round two weeks ago, urged voters to give him enough support so that he can act when he takes office and not be "a hobbled victor." Hollande has promised to renegotiate the European Union's "fiscal pact," which sets tight budget rules, and he called for a "growth pact" to stimulate stagnant economies and add new jobs. The choice that French people make will affect France and the European Union and its attempts to manage the eurozone debt crisis. France is also a permanent U.N. Security Council member and nuclear power and has troops on missions abroad, from Afghanistan to Congo.
Greece: Debt-ridden Disillusionment
Debt-ridden Greece is voting Sunday in its first general elections since in the Socialist Cabinet of George Papandreou stepped down in the fall of 2011 to make way for a caretaker Cabinet. Thus, Greeks began voting at 7 a.m. local time (0400 GMT, 12 a.m. EDT) in their most critical election in decades, with voters set to punish the two main parties that are being held responsible for the country's dire economic straits. 32 parties vie for the votes of nearly 10 million registered voters. Such is the disillusionment with the socialist PASOK party and conservative New Democracy, which have been alternating in power for the last 38 years, that neither is expected to garner enough votes to form a government, reports say. Days of wrangling over forming a coalition will likely ensue, with the prospect—alarming to Greece's lenders and much of the country's population—of another round of elections if they fail.
"Enough is enough. There is too much austerity," 72-year old Maria said as she cast a ballot for Socialist Francois Hollande at the French consulate in Athens, before heading to a Greek polling station to back a leftist party. Like many Greeks angered by the economic hardship imposed in exchange for an international bailout, the bi-national pensioner hopes Hollande will win Sunday's French election and turn Europe away from a German-led agenda focused tightly on cutting debt.
That agenda has made Germany extremely unpopular here and pushed voters in Greece's parallel poll on Sunday away from the two biggest parties, which support the bailout, and towards a host of small groups opposing it. Hollande's pro-growth pledges have struck a chord with many in recession-hit Greece, including Maria, who said in French with a lilting Greek accent that "a change of government in France can be positive for Greece and for all of Europe." The Socialist contender, who is expected to beat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's election, has campaigned as a critic of austerity policies associated with the alliance between the French president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. If elected, he has said he would seek to renegotiate a European budget discipline treaty to put more emphasis on growth.
"I didn't like the Sarkozy-Merkel alliance," Mina Korovessi, a French-Greek mother of four, said to explain why she voted for Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round and Hollande in the second. Korovessi wasn't sure yet who she would support in Greece. But like many Greeks there was "no way" she would vote for the conservative New Democracy or Socialist PASOK, who have ruled for decades and backed unpopular EU/IMF bailouts that fended off bankruptcy but caused deep hardship.
Tax hikes and spending cuts meant to put Greece's derailed finances back on track have dragged the economy into its fifth straight year of recession, with one in two youths unemployed and private sector wages down 25 percent last year alone. As dozens queued outside the French consulate in Athens, opposite the stadium where the first Olympic Games of modern times were organised at the instigation of Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, many said the medicine was killing the patient and they hoped a new French president would help.
"The Greeks have much hope in Hollande, they have had enough of austerity, they want a growth plan. This is what Hollande is proposing and I hope that will be positive for Greece," said Cedric, a 42-year old French executive working in shipping. Hollande's margin of manoeuvre will be limited by the need to compromise with euro zone paymaster Germany. Merkel aides say she is not opposed in principle to any of Hollande's ideas but opposes stimulus measures that rely on government money.
There are more than 8,000 French registered to vote in Greece, most of them in Athens. At the consulate polling station, nearly a third of voters cast a ballot for Hollande in the first round of the election, placing him slightly ahead of Sarkozy like in the rest of France. Unlike in France however, Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon had a strong showing of 21 percent and far-right Marine Le Pen scored less than 5 percent.
Susanne, a French-Greek in her early 40s, said she was voting for the first time in a French election, pushed by the crisis to take a stand, as did a 56-year-old Frenchwoman who cast a vote for the first time in her 30 years living in Greece. "The situation in Greece pushed me to come and vote," said the 56-year old, who declined to give her name. "There is too much suffering, too many lies."
Anyway the Greek seat distribution ensures that no matter who enters the parliament, he must be first in order to have a good chance to have a majority. For instance, the incumbent government will be reinstated as PASOK and ND have more than 151 seats together, despite having less than 35% of votes sofar.
I don`t think it is only a protest voting in Greece. More and more people on the continent recognise the EU as part of the problem, not as part of the solution and are actively seeking alternatives. Look only at the result of PASOK! It is amasing!
Not necessarily. Greeks around here will be first to tell you they have a nepotic political system. Actually, it is the same in the whole Area. So one might see the EU as an Issue, but the *Classical* Parties are as much problems. And while you can get rid of the EU ultimately, you cannot get rid of the networks that exist in the Greek Political life that easily. It is funny, because we got the same issues.
A Greek in the Netherlands who struggles with the bad weather every day..
The immigrants for sure it is a very serious issue but you cannot forget what nazi means, what fascism means. And it is very convenient by the small political parties to say the opposite of the big ones and to serve to the people exactly what the people want to hear. In that case: blame the European countries, blame the immigrants, blame the system etc. Nobody of them had the dignity to say what they did with our money, to accept that they did mistakes and they spent money to become rich, nothing! And at the end who wins: the commies and the fascists..