News

New Leaders in Europe

Surprises and upsets in elections in Greece and France could bring a wave of change to Europe’s policies

May 07, 2012
ANTOINE ANTONIOL—GETTY IMAGES

Newly-elected French President François Hollande waves to supporters as he begins the work of leading France. Hollande is the country’s first Socialist President in 17 years.

On Sunday, citizens of France and Greece turned out by the millions to cast votes for their nations’ leaders. Both countries have been facing major economic and political problems, and voters seemed ready for a change in leadership.

In France, François Hollande beat the current President, conservative Nicholas Sarkozy. When final poll results came in, the more liberal Hollande became France’s first President from the socialist party in 17 years.  And Sarkozy has become the first President of France to have served only one term since 1981.

The leader of Greece’s New Democracy party, Antonis Samaras (right) speaks with Alexis Tsipras, head of the second place Syriza party. Samaras now must form a new government that will hold a majority in Greece’s Parliament.
EVI FYLAKTOU—AP
The leader of Greece’s New Democracy party, Antonis Samaras (right) speaks with Alexis Tsipras, head of the second place Syriza party. Samaras now must form a new government that will hold a majority in Greece’s Parliament.

Across the Mediterranean Sea, voters surprised Greece’s main political parties, PASOK and New Democracy, by rallying for a party called Syriza. The two dominant parties that have led Greece for the past 40 years received a total of 150 of the 300 seats in Greece’s parliament. Syriza finished in second place making the more liberal group the second most powerful party in Greece’s political system.

Fighting Austerity

Why the change to both countries’ leadership? The new governments were lifted to power by voters who want policy changes to Europe’s belt tightening. Greeks and French say they don’t want so many budget cuts and tax increases that will affect the way they live.  But many economists say the budget reductions are necessary to bring the countries out of severe economic debt.

Under the current austerity, or budget cutting, measures, Greece has received two enormous, multi-billion dollar loans to help the country repay its debts. While PASOK and ND pushed for the loans, or bailouts, citizens, investors, and policy-makers feared Greece would never be able to repay Europe. Many blame the Greek government for accepting the measures, which have resulted in a 21% unemployment rate, major slashes to wages and pensions, and the closing of 100,000 small businesses.

New Russian President Vladimir Putin takes his oath of office. This will be Putin’s third term as leader of the country.
ALEXY DRUZHININ—GETTY IMAGES
New Russian President Vladimir Putin takes his oath of office. This will be Putin’s third term as leader of the country.

Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, vowed to work hard to toss Greece’s bailout agreement with Europe. Now he and the other main parties must try to form a new government. If they can’t agree, Greece will have to hold elections again.

France’s Hollande has promised to change the budget-cut plans put in place by former President Sarkozy. Hollande and many economists believe that spending more government money rather than less will help the economy get better and give people jobs.  Leaders in Italy and Spain have also called for increased spending in Europe, but German leader Angela Merkel is against changes to the deals.

A New Day in Russia

Meanwhile, changes are also in the making in Russia. On May 7, Vladimir Putin took his oath of office in Moscow, the country’s capital. This marks the leader’s third term as Russia’s President. He has ruled Russia since 2000, first as President and then during the past four years as prime minister. The new six-year term will keep him in power until 2018, when he will have the chance to run for a fourth term.

After taking the oath of office with his hand on a red copy of Russia’s constitution, Putin stated his commitment to democracy. “We want to live and we will live in a democratic country that will offer opportunities and freedom for everyone’s life and labor,” he said.


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