Austerity check

This could turn out to be an interesting week in European politics, with local elections today here in the UK, and Presidential and Parliamentary polls in France and Greece respectively on Sunday.

In all three cases it’s looking likely that candidates opposing (to a greater or lesser degree) the programmes of austerity imposed by the incumbents will do well.

This probably won’t have much effect in the UK, since the Conservatives will still be in power on a national level, though a heavy defeat might add to the general air of crisis surrounding the Government, and prompt them to at least partially reverse some of their more unpopular cuts.

The result in France could be much more significant; a victory for Francois Hollande will not only lead to a change in domestic economic policy, but will also deprive Angela Merkel of her principal conservative ally in the EU, making it much harder for the Germans to wave the big stick of fiscal discipline at the struggling governments of Southern Europe.

Which brings us to Greece. Theoretically the incoming government, of whatever political persuasion, is already committed to honouring the terms of the EU bailout, but it’s hard to see how that will be democratically sustainable if the popular vote favours parties opposed to that deal.

In the short term I think we’ll have another period of crisis in the Eurozone, the long term impact of which is difficult to predict. There are signs that popular discontent with austerity is fuelling a resurgence on the left, but the far right is on the rise too. Interesting times indeed.

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