NICE, France — "Hollande est un grand homme. Il vas sauver nous et la nation."
I overhead this little gem, as much as my understanding of French will allow, Friday morning while sipping un café at a seaside establishment in France's fifth-largest city. François Hollande was elected the next president of the French Republic by a margin of 3.4 percent earlier that week. Not an impressive margin by any means, but for Hollande to get through to take on the incumbent Sarkozy and win proves that socialism is alive and well in the Gallic nation.
According to my eavesdropping, M. Hollande, "Is a great man. He will save us and the nation." I have only one thought with regard to the word "save," given Europe's zombie-like financial and economic situation. But for French voters, the opposite, in which spend equals save, is true.
No doubt Barry O. called Hollande up to congratulate him and ask for pointers. "Let me know how you keep your people in line, François," I can hear Obama saying. "It could come in handy for my second term."
France, however, was far from alone in advocating reckless spending and increased state control. Greek voters rejected austerity measures aimed at curbing the Greece's spiralling debt, no doubt caused by generations of lavish welfare programs and too-generous public pension plans, during last week's legislative elections. Greece already had a socialist party (PASOK) sharing parliamentary power with the center-right New Democracy party, but both parties had worked on a savings plan and backed the EU bailout agreement. However, the Coalition of the Radical left (SYRIZA) party, which now has 52 seats (out of 300) in the Greek parliament, has vowed to block any further coalitions, thus threatening to jettison the bailout agreement based on the "barbaric" austerity measures within which it will force Greece to live. SYRIZA has essentially replaced PASOK as Greece's main left-wing party and they are clawing the ground like agitated roosters, chomping at the bit to play a game called leverage with the national budget.
Britain, too, had "mid-term" parliamentary elections. The classically socialist party, Labour, gained substantial ground. Much like the results in Greece, the two coalition parties in government (the centre-right Conservatives and the left-wing Liberal Democrats) were punished for the cuts they tried to make, and Labour profited from the anger voters felt toward the Conservatives and Lib Dems.
However, what happened here in Britain is not necessarily bad news. Although the breakdown in Parliament after the election stands at Labour 39 percent, Conservatives 31 percent and Lib Dems 15 percent, the Conservatives can make up the eight percent difference in two years if they are careful. Most voters have not forgotten that "New" Labour got Britain into the financial mess in the first place and a lot of pro-Labour votes were designed to simply send a message.