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.