Europe is braced for a bumper crop of elections this weekend which will decide the politics for the increasingly contested campaign to save the single currency and to drag the EU out of the economic doldrums.
The presidential runoff in France looks likely to turn Nicolas Sarkozy into a crushed one-term president. A crucial general election in Greece will offer the first popular verdict on its financial collapse. Italian local elections will gauge the climate facing the caretaker prime minister, Mario Monti, as he struggles to reform the country’s finances and deeply ingrained labour practices. And a key regional election in the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein could dent Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s power despite her personal popularity and domestic reputation for competence.
Finally, outside the EU but hoping to snatch a date to negotiate entry this year, Serbia stages presidential, parliamentary, and local elections, with Nato troops and international election organisers pouring into the breakaway country of Kosovo amid tensions and arguments over whether and how the ballot should be conducted for its Serbian minority.
A highly varied palate of voting from the Baltic to the Balkans will produce contrasting outcomes. But the likely pattern is a large kick in the teeth for incumbents as Europe’s voters vent their frustrations in the most uncertain of times.
France’s second round decider is the biggest election in Europe this year. The runoff this Sunday has gained in significance because European leaders are hotly at odds over the best policy options to chart a path out of 30 months of crisis. The outcome in the race for the Elysée Palace could tip the balance in that dispute if it pitches François Hollande, the Socialist frontrunner, into a new role as leader of an emerging bloc offering the first serious challenge to Berlin’s dominant response to the euro crisis – austerity.
Greek politics have fragmented under the weight of the country’s debt burden, with Pasok and New Democracy – the centre-left and centre-right parties respectively, who have run the country for decades – imploding after years of corrupt mismanagement.
They are haemorrhaging support to the extreme left and right and both look likely to be the big losers. The question is one of scale and who will be able to cobble together a parliamentary majority. The chances are the election, also on Sunday, will produce an unstable, weak government in the country’s most pressing hour of need.
The Schleswig-Holstein poll will be watched closely as a bellwether for the German government as the state has been governed for three years by a coalition of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the FDP liberals, mirroring the national coalition in Berlin.
Opinion polls point to a defeat for Merkel and a victory for the opposition social democrats (SPD) and Greens. But the SPD’s chances of mustering a majority are also being imperilled by the rise of the upstart Pirates party which is predicted to coast into the regional parliament in Kiel.
A week later, Merkel faces a much bigger test in early elections in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany‘s most populous state.
The first batch of local elections in Italy on Sunday and Monday may deliver mixed and confusing results. While they cannot supply the first electoral verdict on Monti, who took over as provisional prime minister in November, they look likely to cheer him by inflicting big losses on his bitterest opponent, the europhobic Northern League, which has been engulfed by a flood of sleaze scandals. Mayors and councils in about 800 Italian towns are at stake.
Serbia, where economic hardship is biting at least as much as in the eurozone, will see most attention focused on Kosovo where Serb-Albanian tensions have been soaring in recent months. The broadly pro-western and pro-EU president Boris Tadic is fighting for his political life in what looks like a tight battle with his more nationalist challenger, Tomislav Nikolic. The good news is that this is Serbia’s first “normal” election since the wars of the 1990s made it an international pariah, featuring a conventional contest between centre-left and centre-right.
With two EU summits expected next month to decide the next steps in Europe’s debt quandary, the French and Greek outcomes will shape and probably shift the agenda for the policymakers meeting in Brussels.
From the Guardian