Tag Archives: European Union

Hollande inaugurated, names Ayrault as prime minister, flies to Berlin

Newly inaugurated president François Hollande’s flight was struck by lightning en route to Berlin earlier today to meet with German chancellor Angela Merkel — hopefully, not an omen of things to come.

Omen or not, Hollande cannot expect to have any honeymoon after a subdued inauguration.

Hollande also named longtime ally Jean-Marc Ayrault as his prime minister. Ayrault, the president of the Parti socialiste parliamentary group in the Assemblée nationale since 1997, had been considered among the frontrunners for the position.

In his brief address, Hollande emphasized many of the same themes of his campaign: that budget discipline must not come at the expense of potential GDP growth:

“Power will be exercised at the summit of the state with dignity and simplicity,” Hollande declared in an inaugural address to Socialist leaders, trade unionists, military officers, churchmen and officials.

“Europe needs plans. It needs solidarity. It needs growth,” he said, renewing his vow to turn the page on austerity and invest for the future, and implicitly underlining his differences with Merkel.

“To our partners I will propose a new pact that links a necessary reduction in public debt with indispensable economic stimulus,” he said.

“And I will tell them of our continent’s need in such an unstable world to protect not only its values but its interests.”

 

 

June Greek elections now almost certain

Here’s your Monday update on the Greek coalition talks.

All three of the top party leaders have been unable to form a government, and President Karolos Papoulias, over the weekend, has been unable to bring the top leaders together to join a unity government.

New elections, likely to be held June 17, are now all but certain:

Greece’s biggest anti-bailout party, SYRIZA, defied overtures to join the government Sunday, deepening the impasse. Leader Alexis Tsipras won’t attend a new meeting called by Papoulias Monday for 7:30 p.m., state-run NET TV reported, without saying how it got the information.

“SYRIZA won’t betray the Greek people,” Tsipras said in statements televised on NET TV after the meeting with Papoulias and the leaders of the New Democracy and PASOK parties. “We are being asked to agree to the destruction of Greek society.”

Papoulias spent the day trying to coax the country’s three biggest parties into a coalition after a week of talks failed to deliver on mandates to form a government. If Papoulias’s efforts fail, new elections will need to be called. Monday’s meeting will be with the leaders of two of the three biggest parties, and the head of the smaller Democratic Left party, NET said.

Greece’s political impasse since the inconclusive May 6 election has raised the possibility another vote will have to be held as early as next month, with polls showing that could boost anti-bailout SYRIZA to the top spot. The standoff has reignited concern the country will renege on pledges to cut spending as required by the terms of its two bailouts negotiated since May 2010, and, ultimately, leave the euro area.

Kouvelis refuses to join unity Greek government without SYRIZA; Samaras attacks Tsipras

So the latest in the Greek drama over forming a coalition government is vaguely predictable.

Yesterday’s signs of an early breakthrough between PASOK (under the leadership of Evangelos Venizelos) and the Democratic Left (under the leadership of Fotis Kouvelis) crumbled today after it became clear that Kouvelis’s idea of a unity government must include the more radical SYRIZA (under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras).

Any unity government would also have to feature New Democracy (under the leadership of Antonis Samaras), which, as the top vote-winner in Sunday’s election, will hold 108 seats in the Hellenic parliament.

But as I noted yesterday, New Democracy and SYRIZA are simply too far apart in their approaches to the bailout in order to form any viable coalition.

Indeed, if any broad pro-bailout coalition were possible, Samaras would have likely formed it when he had the first opportunity to form a government earlier this week.  If any broad anti-austerity coalition were possible, Tsipras, whose SYRIZA finished a strong second in Sunday’s election would have likely formed it as well.

Meanwhile, Samaras has attacked Tsipras and SYRIZA in a lively forecast of the right’s attack in any future election campaign.  With Sunday’s election behind us, the battle lines are clearly drawn, and a new election will be a clearer showdown between the Samaras view and the Tsipras view — Samaras will run as the champion of austerity, arguing that it’s the only way to guarantee Greece’s continued membership in the eurozone; Tsipras will run as the champion of renegotiating Greece’s position, arguing that the current deal is strangling any chance of economic growth in Greece.

If the talks crumble, as expected, Greece’s president will bring together the top party leaders for one last attempt to implore a national unity government; if that fails, the next option will be new elections in June — polls show that new elections would find Tsipras’s hand strengthen and the anti-austerity left in a much clearer position to form a government.

Venizelos gets the mandate, but new elections still probable in Greece

UPDATE, 2:45 pm ET: After Venizelos (left) met with Kouvelis (right) earlier today, it appears that Greece is a bit closer to forming a governing coalition, although it remains unclear to me which parties would join such a unity coalition:

“The moment of truth is approaching for everyone,” said Kouvelis, who has so far had a guarded approach to entering a unity government. “I propose the formation of an ecumenical government made up of trustworthy political figures that will reflect and respect the message from the elections.”

Kouvelis, whose appeal seemed to be directed at [SYRIZA] and New Democracy, added that this government should have a specific goal.

“This government’s mission, which will have a specific program and timeframe that will last until the European elections of 2014, will be twofold: Firstly, to keep the country in the European Union and euro and, secondly, to being the gradual disengagement from the [EU-IMF] memorandum.”

Kouvelis had previously indicated his willingness to join a SYRIZA-led coalition, and Venizelos will meet with Tsipras and Samaras on Friday.

Together, PASOK, SYRIZA and the Democratic Left would only command 119 seats, but a coalition of New Democracy, PASOK and the Democratic Left would command 168 seats.  Based on the past 72 hours, I cannot see any unity government that would bring together New Democracy and SYRIZA into the same government, so I think that any Kouvelis-endorsed coalition would include New Democracy and not SYRIZA.

Although Kouvelis has been touted as a potential prime minister, it is hard to see Samaras standing down as prime minister in favor of Kouvelis — it is New Democracy, after all, that would contribute 108 of the 168 seats in such a coalition.

One possibility, perhaps, is that Venizelos is willing to pull PASOK further away from its pro-bailout position and from its former caolition partner, New Democracy.  If the 33 seats from the center-right, but anti-bailout Independent Greeks are somehow in play: a PASOK-SYRIZA-Democratic Left-Independent Greeks coalition would carry 152 seats.

The supposed breakthrough comes as the first post-election poll shows that SYRIZA would win a second vote in June with 27.7% to just 20.3% for New Democracy and with PASOK languishing in third place at 12.6%.  With SYRIZA’s popularity climbing, Venizelos and Kouvelis know that it will come largely at the expense of their own parties, which may be driving them toward a coalition government, thereby avoiding new elections.

Stay tuned!

Continue reading Venizelos gets the mandate, but new elections still probable in Greece

Expect a Samaris / Tsipras showdown if Greece holds new June elections

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftist SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) has not yet concluded that he cannot form a government, but it seems increasingly unlikely.  If he fails, Evangelos Venizelos, the former finance minister and leader of PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα) will yet have an opportunity to form a coalition.  If Venizelos fails, Greece’s leaders will have one last opportunity to form a ‘national unity’ government.

All things being equal, however, as neither the pro-bailout nor the anti-bailout forces seem to be able to summon enough strength to form a government, it certainly looks exceedingly likely that Greek voters will go to the polls again in June.

So who wins and who loses in the event of a second election? Continue reading Expect a Samaris / Tsipras showdown if Greece holds new June elections

Greek election results: Samaras and ND to have first chance to form government

A day after an election that scrambled Greek — and potentially, European — politics, party leaders are surveying the new reality of Greek parliamentary politics in search of a workable governing coalition.

The center-right New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία), which finished in first place, and which accordingly won the greatest number of seats in the Hellenic Parliament.  Under Greece’s new election law, 250 seats are distributed by proportional representation, while an additional 50 seats are awarded to the party with the highest support — even if, as in this election, the “winner” gets less than 19% of the total votes cast.

Nonetheless, even with its skewed number of seats, New Democracy is projected to hold just 108 seats, far below what it would need to form a government.   Accordingly, ND leader Antonis Samaras will have the first shot of forming a coalition — and will attempt today to build one among pro-euro and pro-bailout parties. Continue reading Greek election results: Samaras and ND to have first chance to form government

Three elections — and three defeats — for EU-wide austerity

The concept of a ‘democratic deficit’ has long plagued the European Union — the EU’s history is littered with grand, transformative schemes planned by EU leaders that voters have ultimately rejected as too sweeping.  As recently as 2005, French and Dutch voters rejected the proposed EU constitution, smacking the EU elite for getting out too far in front of an electorate that clearly did not approve.

Sure enough, the story of the last three days — in the UK, in France and in Greece — will go down in EU history as a similar pivot point against German chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempt to impose strict fiscal discipline across the continent, even as additional electoral hiccups await in the North-Rhine Westphalia state elections later this week, the Irish referendum on the fiscal compact later this month and French and Dutch parliamentary elections due later this summer.

French president-elect François Hollande will now immediately become the face of the EU-wide opposition to austerity and is expected to challenge Merkel with a view that advocates more aggressive spending in a bid to balance fiscal responsibility with the promotion of economic growth — a distinct change in Franco-German relations after the ‘Merkozy’ years.  In his victory speech, Hollande called for a ‘fresh start for Europe’ and laid down his gauntlet: ‘austerity need not be Europe’s fate.’

It is an incredible turnaround from December, when Merkel and deposed French president Nicolas Sarkozy single-handedly pushed through the fiscal compact adopted by each of the EU member states (minus the UK and the Czech Republic), which would bind each member state to a budget deficit of no more than just 0.5% of GDP.  The treaty followed in the wake of the latest eurozone financial crisis last November, during which both the governments of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and Georgios Papandreou in Greece fell, to be replaced by Berlin-approved technocratic governments, each tasked with the express purpose of making reforms to cut their governments’ respective budgets.

Continue reading Three elections — and three defeats — for EU-wide austerity