Francois Hollande’s election victory Sunday over Nicolas Sarkozy and the losses by Greece’s main political parties, are only the latest examples of the growing anti-austerity backlash in Europe. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, resigned last month after the populist, right-wing Freedom Party withdrew its support in opposition to a proposed €14.2 billion austerity package, which included cuts to healthcare spending and increases in the retirement age. The Dutch government has been one of the few in Europe to maintain its AAA credit rating throughout the crisis, a sign that support for fiscal tightening is endangered even in the stronger economies.
Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday failed to win reelection as president of France. He was defeated by François Hollande, who is only the second Socialist to hold the post since direct election started in 1958.
As campaigning continues ahead of the 6 May run-off for French president both candidates set out on Monday to court the more than six million people who voted for the far-right Front National party of Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s first round.
Britain and France are to sign a civil nuclear energy deal on Friday, as UK Prime Minister David Cameron meets President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. The British government claims the deal will create thousands of jobs.
The markets are watching anxiously ahead of a meeting on Tuesday in Paris between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to discuss ways to try to resolve the eurozone debt crisis.
Moscow is flush with cash from energy sales and arms producers in France, Italy and Germany are happy to take large chunks of it. They are busily selling Russia advanced weapons, sensitive dual-use systems and military supplies. All this indicatesunprecedented Russian openness about (and need to) buy advanced weapons systems. Moreover, Moscow-based experts say privately that the Kremlin hopes the arms deals help revive the Russian-French-German axis that began to emerge in 2003 in opposition to the US-Iraq war.
When the financial crisis erupted in September 2008 President Nicolas Sarkozy was quick to seize the European lead. He summoned Britain’s Gordon Brown to emergency talks in Paris. He urged Europeans to stimulate their economies. He taunted Germany’s Angela Merkel for hesitating over a stimulus plan, declaring that “France is working on it; Germany is thinking about it.” The French counted at least as much as the Germans—indeed, they were setting the pace (in part fortuitously, as France held the European Union presidency at the time).
The Weimer Triangle is just one of the many prisms through which the EU looks at Russia. After a long break, the heads of state of Poland, Germany and France came together for a meeting of the Weimar Triangle on February 7. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski started the summit off with a bang by inviting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to attend the summit, and all future summits, as a guest.
A potentially seismic geo-political shift is taking place in Europe. The pan-European settlement that has eluded the continent since the fall of the Berlin War is emerging into view.
Has Dmitry Medvedev successfully capitalised on his time as Russian president to pre-empt Vladimir Putin in bringing Moscow irreversibly close to the West? Not Yet. What happens within Russia is a different sport altogether. But one suspects that Putin (mark his silence), even if he’s still scripting his return to the top job in 2012, has lost some room for manoeuvre.