Political Animal


April 23, 2012 9:44 AM “Merkozy” Takes a Beating

By Ed Kilgore

While French president Nicolas Sarkozy is the pol with the bullseye painted on his back after this weekend’s first round of elections, he’ll share the pain with his close associate Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Indeed, the French elections were not the sole setback for “Merkozy,” as a center-right government committed to European austerity policies fell in the Netherlands on Saturday and huge anti-austerity protests broke out in Prague.

American media coverage of the second round of the French elections will probably focus on Sarkozy’s efforts to corral most of the 18% of the vote won by far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen; the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric could get shockingly thick. But even in the unlikely event Sarkozy defeats Socialist Francois Hollande, it’s pretty clear he’d be under great public pressure to either break with Merkel or at least use his leverge with her to secure a moderation of austerity policies.

Events over the weekend illustrate one very big difference between European and American politics at present: the hard-core “populist” European Right, as reflected by Le Pen and by the Dutch Freedom Party’s Geert Wilders (who brought down a pro-austerity government), is not very supportive of the commitment to fiscal retrenchment that is the signature of the Tea Party Movement here. If a Left-Right convergence against austerity gains strength, Merkel could soon become very lonely, aside from her fan base among American deficit hawks.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on April 23, 2012 10:39 AM:

    Notice that the people in the Netherlands are protesting austerity. The idea of the regular folks sacrificing while the rich live high and wide isn't really appealing. I wonder if anybody has told Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor that the Ryan Budget could lead to riots?

  • Danp on April 23, 2012 10:47 AM:

    And I always thought austerity was considered the greatest virtue to the Dutch.

  • Monkey in Holland on April 23, 2012 10:48 AM:

    Belief in austerity and the power of Ayn Rand isn't the only difference. The far right, at least in Holland, is less religous and anti-homosexual, too. Geert Wilders is getting most of the press, but his party is expected to lose seats if there is an upcoming election. The projected big winners, in terms of number of seats gained, is the Socialist party who are also euroskeptics, which validates your point about a left-right convergance. Although,the major left-right parties are promising to continue with the austerity agenda, despite the vast majority of Dutch citizen being opposed. Should be an interesting few months here in the Low Countries! Looking foward to your colleague's thoughts (Erik Van Hoeten, I believe is his name)

  • boatboy_srq on April 23, 2012 10:53 AM:

    Key difference:

    The European conservatives are able to accept empirical evidence that austerity is not successful in addressing the Great Recession, and do something about it. There's no moral component in the spending - just a realisation that reducing public expenditures and tightening financing is just making things worse, or as bad for far longer than necessary.

    US Conservatists take austerity (in the form of "deficit reduction") as a solution for everything, and use it as a cudgel against social spending: when the economy is doing well, we don't need to spend as much on "those people," and when it isn't "we can't afford it".

    For Europe, it's policy. For the US, it's econo-religious dogma.

  • Christiaan on April 23, 2012 11:30 AM:

    Be careful to interpret terms like "right" and "left" when comparing US and European politics, actually in general in politics they are mostly meaningless. For instance, the populist "right" parties in Europe (like Le Pen's and Wilder's parties) are right on social and immigration policies, but they are strongly on the left when talking about economic issues (social security, health care, labor market and such, while non-religious.) Moreover, the main stream right wing parties in Europe are liberal parties, which in Europe means supporting free market principles, though without the Tea-party extremism (especially on social/religious issues).

  • boatboy_srq on April 23, 2012 11:57 AM:


    The comparison is worthwhile for two reasons.

    1) Europe is showcasing what comparatively sane conservatism looks like;

    2) "L/R" language avoids the whole messy Godwinian debate about whether the US' GOP really are the new Fascists.