Monthly Reports

WGE – May 2012

In a momentous month of European elections and developments, France has elected a new Socialist President while the aftermath of elections in Greece looks set to destabilise the Eurozone for the foreseeable future.

The election of François Hollande as the seventh President of the French Fifth Republic confirmed the Socialist’s popularity over the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Sarkozy’s presidency of France will be the second shortest in recent French history, longer only (by two months) than Georges Pompidou whose death in 1974 prematurely ended his first term. Despite many polls leading up to the election suggesting a 6% lead for Hollande, the final result in the second round was slightly closer, with Hollande taking 51.6% of the vote. The first round of voting had also been very close between the two main candidates, with Hollande receiving 28.6% to Sarkozy’s 27.2%. The final result was the ninth occasion, out of twelve previous public elections, in which the winner of the first round of voting went on to win the second round as well. Hollande will take office today and becomes the second post-war Socialist French President, after François Mitterrand between 1981 and 1995. The first round of voting was also significant in showing a large portion of France, 17.9%, voting for the far-right Marine Le Pen and, 11.1%, voting for the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Some early polls for the upcoming parliamentary elections are actually showing the UMP leading the Socialists, which if translated into seats could present France with the possibility of another period of cohabitation, where the president is forced to appoint a Prime Minister of a rival party due their command of a parliamentary majority. There have been three previous periods of cohabitation in France, which have usually been an anchor on the powers and ambitions of the President, the most significant being that between President Mitterrand and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac between 1986 and 1988.

Whilst Greece also went to the polls at the same time as France, the Greeks are nowhere near close to deciding who will govern the country after the results provided no party with any real victory. New Democracy (ND) topped the poll but received less than a fifth of the vote and, even with an obligatory 50 seats bonus for topping the polls, controls only 108 seats in the 300 seat parliament. These seats, added to the meagre 41 seats and 13.2% of votes received by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which had previously been Greece’s largest party, is still not enough to form a majority for the two main parties committed to implementing the reforms necessary to comply with the conditions of a European bailout. The ND leader, Antonis Samaras, was constitutionally obliged to make the first attempt at putting a government together, which he attempted to do by negotiating a “national salvation” coalition, but this failed. The torch was then passed by the Greek President to Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party who finished a surprising second in the election on a platform of anti-austerity and reform based on EU bailout conditions. Tsipras’ attempts were ultimately unsuccessful too and it is now up to Evangelos Venizelos from PASOK. If, eventually, no agreement can be reached between any of the seven parties that now have seats in parliament then it is likely that fresh elections will take place which, according to current polling, would see SYRIZA come out on top.

Other electoral developments in Europe include:

  • Negotiations over the Dutch budget have proved too divisive for the government of the Netherlands with Prime Minister Mark Rutte handing his resignation to the Queen, prompting a general election that will take place in September. The governing coalition of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) had been relying on the support of the Party for Freedom (PVV) in parliament, which has now been removed following a disagreement over austerity measures to be implemented as part of this year’s Dutch budget. Early polls still put the VVD as the largest party, in fact they suggest that the party could increase its seat share, although polls also show strong popular feeling against austerity measures, which could feed into the hands of the PVV and others campaigning against such reforms.
  • A hastily-formed government, led by Prime Minister Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, has been ousted by the Romanian parliament after just three months in power. Ungureanu had replaced Emil Boc, of the Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L), in February and led a government consisting of the PD-L and the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania. Yet, Ungureanu’s government’s support became more fragile following increasing support for a new opposition coalition, called the Social Liberal Union, which was formed last year and includes the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Conservative Party (PC). Its leader, Victor Ponta, has now been appointed Prime Minister and will be expected to govern at least until November, when a general election is due in which he and his PSD party are expected to do well.
  • The Czech government has survived a vote of confidence in parliament, but looks set to struggle to continue its control before general elections that are not due until May 2014. The coalition of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), TOP 09 and Public Affairs led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas broke down last month following controversy surrounding the Public Affairs party and its leader, Vit Barta, who was last month handed an 18-month suspended sentence for bribing party colleagues. Nečas refused to continue to govern with the party but eventually a new agreement was reached with a group of MPs now formed around Karolina Peake, the deputy prime minister who has defected from Public Affairs, and this new agreement has been approved by parliament, albeit with a slim margin. Even with this new vote of confidence, the Czech government could struggle to resist calls for new elections with polls showing strong public support for the Czech Social Democratic Party, which are in fact already the largest party in parliament, and other left-wing, “anti-austerity” parties.
  • The Hungarian parliament has confirmed Prime Minister Victor Orban’s nomination, János Áder as President. Áder is a member of the Prime Minister’s Fidesz Party which crucially has a large majority needed to comfortably elect a President. 262 from 307 votes casted (from a 386 seat parliament) were in favour of Áder to replace Pál Schmitt, who resigned last month after admitting to plagiarising his doctoral dissertation.
  • Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel continues a trend of heavy local election defeats over the last year with possibly the most significant, and devastating, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s largest region with a population of almost 18 million people. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party received just 26% of the votes down from 34%, received just two years ago, whilst the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) topped the poll with 39% and are expected to form a red-green coalition in the region with the Green party, which finished third with 12% of the vote. Regional elections in Schleswig-Holstein last week also saw the CDU receive their lowest vote share in over 50 years. A German general election is not due until late next year.
  • Local elections in the UK have also seen the governing coalition parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, suffer a large drop in votes to the benefit of the opposition Labour Party. The Conservative Party received 31% of the vote, down from 35% last year and from 44% in 2008 when these local seats had last been contested, and although the Liberal Democrats increased their vote share to 16%, from 15% last year, this represented a 9% drop from their 2008 vote share meaning the loss of more than 300 local councillors. The Conservative Party were, however, more reassured by the victory of their candidate, Boris Johnson, in the London Mayoral elections over the Labour Candidate, Ken Livingston, which took place on the same day. Eleven local referendums also took place to decide whether or not certain cities wanted elected mayors in which just two, in Bristol and Doncaster, agreed.

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