There was some suspense thanks to a last-minute polling trend in favor of the incumbent, but in the end Socialist Francois Hollande edged Nicolas Sarkozy to become president of France, dealing a direct blow to “Merkozy”, the German-Franco alliance sponsoring EU austerity policies. Since it was accompanied by an absolute meltdown for the governing parties in elections in Greece, the French results indicate a new departure in European politics, notes Paul Krugman:

Both countries held elections Sunday that were in effect referendums on the current European economic strategy, and in both countries voters turned two thumbs down. It’s far from clear how soon the votes will lead to changes in actual policy, but time is clearly running out for the strategy of recovery through austerity — and that’s a good thing.

Needless to say, that’s not what you heard from the usual suspects in the run-up to the elections. It was actually kind of funny to see the apostles of orthodoxy trying to portray the cautious, mild-mannered François Hollande as a figure of menace. He is “rather dangerous,” declared The Economist, which observed that he “genuinely believes in the need to create a fairer society.” Quelle horreur!

Angela Merkel’s party also experienced a setback in a state election in Schleswig-Holstein that was widely viewed as a table-setter for next year’s German national elections.

All in all, it’s a bit of a muddle for those in our country who view the European political landscape as one of virtuous, powerful austerity advocates taming financially bankrupt reactionaries hanging onto “unsustainable” welfare state policies, with the United States eventually facing the same choice of austerity or ruin.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.