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Auf Wiedersehen, Mon Ami

If the results of the latest elections are any indication, Europeans will elect anyone from communists to fascists if they promise to fight German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the financial austerity measures she has imposed on the eurozone.

French Socialist François Hollande rode to victory on a wave of popular dissatisfaction on Sunday, May 6, defeating President Nicolas Sarkozy, a close ally of Merkel. "You did not resist Germany," Hollande declared in a televised debate late last week, accusing Sarkozy of acquiescing to German economic measures that require France and other EU states to make deep, painful cuts to their social welfare spending.

Hollande now joins the collapsed Dutch government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte -- which unraveled in late April over resistance to economic belt-tightening -- to deliver a one-two austerity punch to Germany. Compounding Merkel's political isolation on Sunday, May 6, voters knocked her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) out of a governing coalition in a regional election. Although the CDU secured the most votes in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, it was the party's worst electoral performance since 1950.

In a shot across the Rhine, Hollande declared in his victory speech in the small southwestern French town of Tulle that "austerity is no longer inevitable."

Yet for all his bluster, Hollande likely won't be able to impose radical change on Europe's core economics. The powerful German economy has kept the euro afloat as Greece, Italy, Spain, and other countries have drawn perilously close to the brink of collapse. Its manufacturing and exports businesses remain the engine of European prosperity.

Under the fiscal treaty Merkel advanced this year, EU member states are required to ensure that their "deficits do not exceed 3 percent of their gross domestic product at market prices" and must maintain strict limits on government debt.
The treaty goes to great lengths -- with corrective measures and potential legal action against member states -- to prevent a repeat of a Greek-style economic meltdown.

Benjamin Weinthal is the Berlin-based European correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The above article was published in foreignpolicy.com on May 7th, 2012.


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