Austerity Vs. Stimulus: France’s Swing Voters will Decide

April 23rd, 2012 by

The results of this past weekend’s first round of voting in the French presidential elections may have delivered a warning that the close alliance between France and Germany on strategies for tackling and containing the eurozone crisis may be approaching an end. For the last few years, the team of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been so much in sync that they have become known to all as “Merkozy”. But in first-round voting, Sarkozy became the first French president in half a century to fail to emerge as leader, ceding pride of place to Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

Now the two men will square off in a runoff election scheduled to take place May 6, and it is the one-third of French voters who cast ballots in favor of other parties – including the National Front candidate on the extreme right, Martine Le Pen – who hold the balance of power. To understand the impact of these voters on the outcome, see the interactive graphic, below, which enables you to calculate how many voters who supported candidates that didn’t make it through to the run-off now need to switch their allegiance to Sarkozy in order for him to cling on to his job.

One of the issues in the spotlight is the future of the idea of austerity as a cure for Europe’s economic malaise. While “Merkozy” have been promoting austerity as a needed corrective, Hollande restated his belief Sunday night that the right path involves stimulus. He wants, he says, “to reorient Europe on the path of growth and employment.” Hollande has said he won’t push France to ratify the fiscal compact among eurozone nations that will come into effect in January if approved by a dozen of the 17 signatories.

The fact that the austerity debate is now a political hot potato in France signals just how much concern there is about the prospect of the country falling victim to the prevalent euro-malaise, despite the fact that thus far, it has been one of the stronger nations in the eurozone.

For more context on the economic issues that both candidates will be addressing during the coming days and that the victor will have to find a way to address in his term of office, see the following Datastream charts.

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