Monday, Apr. 23, 2012
The French Disconnection: Why Voters Yearn for Substance in the Presidential Election
By Peter Gumbel / Paris

Matthieu Pigasse believes strongly that France and its European partners need to act quickly in order to fix the ongoing financial crisis and avoid becoming has-beens of the world economy. Some tough decisions must be made, says Pigasse, vice chairman for Europe at Lazard, the French investment bank, and a co-owner of Le Monde, France's most respected daily newspaper. Among the measures he advocates: the euro should be devalued; there should be broad fiscal reform across Europe; France should be reindustrialized. But as he watches the current campaign for the French presidency, Pigasse is not hearing many policy-focused discussions from the candidates, including President Nicolas Sarkozy and his main challenger, François Hollande. Instead, what he's hearing are attacks. The targets? The elites of French society — people, in other words, like Pigasse himself. "It could have taken place a decade ago. It's like nothing has happened in the past three to four years," says Pigasse, who says he doesn't take the attacks personally but finds the tenor of the campaign deeply frustrating. The destructive, scapegoating rhetoric is a sign, Pigasse says, of "a sick society."

It's easy to see what he means. The candidates share a vision of a France that is weak, vulnerable and besieged. The shadowy elites they rail against differ, and the brinks that they see France tottering on the edge of are also quite distinct, but each of the 10 candidates is positioning him- or herself as the true protector and authentic voice of the people.

The right-of-center Sarkozy promises to take on entrenched power groups, be they unelected bureaucrats, unrepresentative unions or unresponsive political parties. "There are a lot of French people who have the feeling deep down of being dispossessed, that lots of things that happen are beyond their control. There's a France that doesn't believe in anything anymore," he recently told a TV interviewer.

For his part, Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate who is neck and neck with Sarkozy in the polls, blames the wealthy. "I love people, where others are fascinated by money," he told the biggest rally of his supporters to date, in Le Bourget. "My adversary, my real adversary has no name and no face and no political party. He will never be a candidate and thus will never be elected, and yet he rules. This adversary is the world of finance."

This is France's first post-"outrage" election. Except for a brief pause during and immediately after the Toulouse shooting, when a French-Algerian gunman killed three Jewish children, a rabbi and three paratroopers before being killed in a shootout with police, this presidential election has turned into an unabashedly populist road show. All the candidates have positioned themselves as representing the 99% and lambasting the 1% they hold responsible for the mess. In so doing, they're feeding into a national discontent that found perhaps its clearest expression in a wildly popular pamphlet published 18 months ago by the French writer, diplomat and World War II resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel. The pamphlet's title is Indignez-Vous! (Time for Outrage!) and it exhorts France, especially young people, to recapture the spirit that fueled the wartime resistance to the Nazis and mount a "peaceful insurrection" against injustice, "mass consumption, the disdain of the weak and of culture, general amnesia and the endless competition of all against all."

As they have campaigned, Sarkozy and Hollande haven't said much about restoring French competitiveness in a changing world, or how to manage the euro crisis and create badly needed jobs. Instead, they have attempted to tap into the feelings that Hessel captured in his pamphlet, focusing their campaign stops on workers at failing companies, students struggling to find jobs and residents of crumbling housing estates. Both have played up their credentials as regular Joes. Hollande has let slip that he reads sports news, while Sarkozy discussed how he relishes spending time with "normal" people. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, in charge of communications for Sarkozy's campaign, says his anti-elitist stance isn't an election affect but "really corresponds to his mind-set. He's not part of some inner circle; he doesn't have the airs of an heir."

This us-vs.-them rhetoric has long been a staple of the political extremes in France and is once again being used by Marine Le Pen of the extreme-right National Front party and by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a firebrand leftist, each of whom is polling at around 13% to 16% of the vote, compared with 26% to 29% for Hollande and Sarkozy. What's new and unusual is that that rhetoric has become mainstream. In the process, it reveals a lot about the unsettled state of France today, a country that feels victimized by a changing world, economically stagnant and poorly governed.

How the Extreme Right and Left Will Affect France's Presidential Race

Populist Appeals
Over the past half-century, "we've not had this populist temptation in presidential elections, but today it's present in all the candidates," says Luc Rouban, a sociologist at Sciences Po's Cevipof political research center. He sees uncomfortable parallels to unstable periods of French history, especially before the two World Wars, when the French political system was highly fragmented and there was often paranoid talk about behind-the-scenes manipulators who were pulling strings. The economic crisis, Rouban says, "has made the phantom [of hidden enemies] emerge from its closet."

Back in the 1930s, the targets of paranoid populist attacks were often the Catholic Church, monarchists or shadowy groups on the far left. In 2012 it's the bankers and top government officials — people like Pigasse. He worked in the Finance Ministry and as an aide to two government ministers, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, before moving to Lazard. That curriculum vitae means he is targeted for different reasons by both Hollande and Sarkozy, as a banker by the former and a top functionary by the latter. (PHOTOS: The Case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn)

Opinion polls suggest there's a huge gap between what voters want the candidates to focus on and what they are actually talking about. A recent poll in the business newspaper Les Echos showed that employment is the single biggest election preoccupation for 52% of the French — but that only 29% of them see the candidates talking about the issue. Polls by OpinionWay to gauge public interest in the campaign show that the proportion of people who are "very interested" in the election has dropped from 30% to 20% in the past two months, while those saying they are only "slightly" or "not at all" interested has soared from 29% to 39% in the same period.

"The campaign is a farce. The candidates aren't talking about the real subjects like employment or debt because they don't have solutions," says Hamid Senni, who runs a consultancy that advises companies on how to diversify their workforce. How to explain the populist turn? "The old scapegoats no longer work well," Senni says. "It's not the blacks and the Arabs who are taking people's jobs and houses. That's why they're going after the elites."

Sensing the public's discontent, Sarkozy has in the past few days shifted tack to introduce more substance and less rhetoric. At a press conference on April 5, he outlined the details of his financial policy, including figures, in a bid to show that he was taking the issues seriously. But coming at the height of the campaign just two weeks before the vote, this stab at gravitas didn't get the publicity his campaign had hoped, and within a couple of days Sarkozy again switched tack, ridiculing Hollande as "one of those members of the caviar left who says he's the enemy of finance but likes belonging to smart clubs."

There is a world of difference between the power centers that Sarkozy so disdains and the ones that Hollande disparages. In Sarkozy's view, French society is hamstrung by its manifold bureaucracies, starting with top-ranking civil servants, the hauts fonctionnaires, who inevitably graduated from the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), the elite academy that for decades has turned out future government ministers and their inner circles.

They make for an easy target, since Hollande is an ENA graduate, as are most of his top lieutenants in the Socialist Party. Pigasse went there too. But Sarkozy has also been attacking other facets of French life that he sees as unrepresentative. One of them is the cozy arrangement under which many elements of French labor policy are negotiated between unions and employers' associations.

In the other camp, Hollande's war on finance and wealth is an obvious proxy war on Sarkozy himself, who earned the moniker of President Bling-Bling after cavorting with rich friends rather too openly for French tastes; particularly grating was the celebration of his 2007 election victory at the swank Fouquet's hotel on the Champs-Elysées in Paris and his subsequent holiday onboard the luxury yacht of his businessman friend Vincent Bolloré.

Both sets of campaign tactics are striking for what they say about the two candidates themselves, and in their own way both touch on deep-rooted French attitudes. Hollande's attack on wealth plays into a very French social taboo, since money is almost a dirty word and, unlike in the U.S. or Britain, material success is to be hidden rather than flaunted. "The French generally have a problem with money. If you have it, you hide it in pots of flour or under the mattress," says Guillaume Evin, who, together with fellow journalist Philippe Martinat, has just published a book about the issue, called Je N'Aime Pas les Riches — "I Don't Like Rich People." The quote is a phrase that Hollande uttered on a TV show in 2006.

Back in 2007, some intellectuals saw in Sarkozy's embrace of wealth a daring attempt to rid France of its money complexes, which Martinat and Evin say stem from a combination of Catholic religion, Marxist beliefs and French peasant tradition. One philosopher, Marcel Gauchet, even describes Sarkozy as the first post-modern President "because of his ambition to rid this country of its old Catholic hypocrisy about material success." But Martinat says Sarkozy went too far. "He broke all the taboos at the same time and provoked a reaction because it wasn't seen as fitting the image of a French President."

The public sector that Sarkozy attacks is an even more politically risky target than the moneyed classes Hollande is going after. In the U.S. and Britain, railing against red tape is a staple of political life, but in France the state's strong role in public life remains broadly cherished. A recent Ipsos opinion poll shows that 73% of young people between the ages of 15 and 30 would like to find work in the public sector. The overwhelming reason: job security.

Yet Sarkozy may be onto something, since other polls show that the public connection with the state is fading, with many ordinary workers feeling that their voices and opinions aren't being heard, either by politicians or by their union representatives. Growing apathy about politics is one of the consequences: almost 80% of the working-class population didn't bother to vote in French regional elections in 2010, for example. And a poll in February by Ipsos about the reputation and standing of politicians shows that about 1 in 2 French voters believes that the people who govern them have become significantly less sincere and more caught up in conflicts of interest over the past two decades.

Behind the rhetoric, however, sociologist Rouban sees some clearly directed targeting of voter groups by each candidate. Sarkozy's focus is on attracting the disaffected working-class voters, including those who supported Le Pen's father — and predecessor as leader of the National Front — in 2007. Hollande, on the other hand, is aiming at the middle-class voters who feel squeezed by economic stagnation and resent those who aren't.

In the case of both leading candidates, even some basic biographical investigation reveals men whose histories do not lend credence to their claims to be of humble origins. Sarkozy didn't go to ENA, but he did spend time at another elite school, Sciences Po. That didn't prevent him from calling its students "abnormal" on a recent campaign stop. As for Hollande, you have to go back at least three generations in his family in order to find anything resembling peasant roots, and he lives comfortably on his various official salaries. Evin and Martinat estimate he earns about $9,000 per month after tax, which puts him in the top 5% of French earners but is not enough to be hit by the new 75% top marginal income tax bracket that he's promising to introduce for top earners.

Seeking Solutions
The big question, and the one that may well prove decisive in this election, is not whether one candidate's bogeyman is more frightening than another's but whether this hunt for scapegoats is in itself in tune with the times. The polls — like Pigasse — suggest not. They have consistently shown that the public finds the campaign lacking in conviction. People are already voting with their wallets. The national savings rate, for example, has just risen to its highest level since 1983, a sure sign that the French worry about the future and are preparing for a downturn.

On a sunny Friday morning, a small crowd heads toward a pavilion on the edge of Paris that is hosting a public-sector jobs fair. Some 5.3 million French people, more than 20% of the workforce, are employed in the public sector. They're not recruiting an elite here, but nurses and hydraulic engineers and school administrators and municipal gardeners. During Sarkozy's first term, teachers bore the brunt of public spending cuts, but the state education system still employs more than a million people. (Hollande is proposing to hire 60,000 teachers, one of the costliest of his campaign promises.)

At the upper echelons of the civil service there is open hostility to Sarkozy, but down at this level it's not universally shared. Frédéric Surault works in the city administration in Poitiers, and all the talk about elites does not resonate with him. In the current climate of low growth and high unemployment, he's looking for concrete solutions — even if they touch the civil service. "People can't be protected for life," he says. "Sarkozy's rhetoric is a bit facile and excessive, but Hollande needs to realize that the fat-cow years are over too."

Hatic and Sirin Calik are strolling around the fair looking for opportunities. They are second-generation immigrants of Turkish origin. Both are in their early 20s, with master's degrees from French universities, and both are looking for jobs. They have sent out more than 200 applications apiece, and so far they've gotten nowhere. The election rhetoric leaves them cold. "To tell the truth, nobody inspires much confidence," shrugs Hatic. "François Hollande makes you dream, but it's not realistic. Neither is Sarkozy." Populism, it turns out, isn't what the people want in France this election. But unless the candidates take notice, it's all they're likely to get.

≪ フレンチ・ディスコネクション ≫








< 大衆主義者は訴える >





サルコジが毛嫌いしている権力の中枢部と、オランドが軽視しているそれとはまったく異なる。サルコジの見解では、多岐にわたる官僚層によってフランス社会は駄目にされたと言って、国立行政学院(ENA)卒が定番の高級役人(hauts fonctionnaires)をその筆頭に挙げる。このエリート養成機関は何十年も将来の政府閣僚やエリート集団を生み出してきたのだ。



両陣営の相まみえる選挙戦術は、互いに自らを語っている内容を批判することであり、両候補はそれぞれのやり方で、抜き固く染みついているフランス人の態度に触れている。オランドの富裕層に対する攻撃は、フランス社会のタブーそのものに触れることになる。なぜなら金銭は汚らわしいものであり、米国や英国と違って、物質的成功は誇示するものではなく秘匿するものだからだ。「一般的にフランス人は、金銭に関しては厄介なのです。お金が手に入れば、床下の壺に入れるかカーペットの下に隠します」と、同僚のジャーナリスト、フィリップ・マルティナと「金持ちは嫌だ(Je N’Aime Pas les Riches)」を共著出版したばかりのギヨーム・エヴィンは言う。このタイトルはオランドが2006年のTVショーで話した言葉の引用句だ。






< 解決を求めて >




Monday, Apr. 23, 2012
François Hollande: France Needs a Return to Fairness
By Bruce Crumley

French Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande is projected by polls to beat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the runoff stage of voting in France's presidential election on May 6. He spoke with TIME's Bruce Crumley about his main opponent, his policy priorities and his plans for France and Europe.

Why doesn't a leader like Nicolas Sarkozy — who's viewed as a successful statesman abroad — get more credit at home for foreign policy achievements?

I don't think his international track record is viewed as all that positive. Remember his complicity with George [W.] Bush. His deals with Gaddafi and his shameful hosting of the Libyan leader in Paris remain a smear on France's record. His embrace of Bashar Assad and his Africa policy that has literally shocked people with its cynicism have also been widely decried. It's true his more recent role in Libya was commendable, and his hard position on Syria has been right — though, again, regarding a dictator he earlier embraced. Similarly, his action within the [euro] crisis has been viewed as responsive but contrasts with his two years of hesitation.

What would be the biggest differences between you in the Elysée and Sarkozy's so-called bling-bling presidency?

The difference in style speaks for itself. Beyond that, perhaps the biggest changes people will see are coherency, consistency and wider policy stability. People are tired of constant movement, improvisation and wild scrambling when plans fail. People know the country is facing considerable problems and challenges, but they don't see why those can't be handled in a sustained manner, with calm and reflection and over a long period. Another big change will be a focus on fairness.

Is saving the French welfare model possible as part of that?

One thing that makes France different from other countries is the tradition of social solidarity. People from all backgrounds and political positions are willing to contribute for services and protection of society as a whole — but on the condition that money is being spent effectively and that everyone is paying their part.

You've said you'd renegotiate the fiscal compact treaty created in response to the debt and euro crisis if you're elected. What exact changes would you seek?

The first point of negotiation will be to create new financial capabilities for growth. In the short term, not so much in the form of eurobonds but rather in "project bonds" to finance European Union growth projects. The second is that the European Investment Bank — which already has borrowing powers — can borrow funds to support innovative small and medium-size companies in Europe. Third, I'll ask that structural funds that already exist, but which today aren't being used, be freed up for deployment as growth stimulus — including by countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain. Finally, the European Financial Stability Mechanism must be considered as a bank and be capable of benefiting from European Central Bank intervention in the event of major speculative activity, or to purchase sovereign debt when necessary.

Renegotiation is opposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and could weaken the Franco-German partnership.

That partnership shouldn't be a directorate for other E.U. members. Today it's not even a genuine partnership, because one half is currently driving and the other is a passenger. France has become a follower in the relationship.

≪ フランシス・オランド:フランスは公平さを取り戻さなければならない ≫









(オランド)まず再交渉の1点目は、成長のための新しい財政的能力を作り出すことでしょう。短期的には、ユーロ債にあまり頼るのではなく、EUが成長できるための事業に出資する『事業債』の形態をとるのがいいでしょう。2点目は、欧州投資銀行で、すでに融資能力は備わっているので、ヨーロッパの革新的な中小企業を支援する資金の借り入れができます。3点目は、すでに存在しているが眠ったままの構造基金を、自由に成長刺激策の開発資金に組み替えるように要求します。そこにはギリシャやポルトガル、そしてスペインのような国も含みます。最後に、欧州安定メカニズム(the European Financial Stability Mechanism)を銀行として扱い、大きな投機的活動があった場合には、欧州中央銀行の介入によって利益を保護したり、必要とあれば国債を購入することができるようにすべきです。



Monday, May. 21, 2012
Kiss Austerity Goodbye
By Bryan Walsh

There are surely people who are ecstatic that François Hollande, 57, will be the new President of France — perhaps the members of his immediate family or the residents of the central French city of Tulle, where he spent seven years as mayor, who gave him more than 75% of their votes. But the mild-mannered Hollande, who narrowly beat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in a runoff election on May 6, became the first Socialist to lead the French Republic since 1995 as much for what he isn't as for what he is. He isn't Sarkozy, the temperamental conservative with the supermodel wife and ostentatious taste for wealth who polarized France during his five years in the Elysée Palace. He isn't Marine Le Pen, the far-right firebrand with xenophobic views on Islam and immigration who won nearly one-fifth of the votes cast in the first round of the presidential elections. Hollande, who assumes office with no experience in national government, won control of the world's fifth largest economy by promising to be a "Président normal."

But these are not normal times. Hollande was also propelled into power on a wave of public unhappiness with the fiscal-austerity policies driven by Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It wasn't just Sarkozy whom France was rejecting; it was Merkozy, the tight partnership between the two leaders who have led a take-no-prisoners budget-slashing crusade to save the European monetary union — a strategy that is now being questioned in both political and economic circles. "In all the capitals, beyond government leaders and state leaders, there are people who, thanks to us, are hoping, are looking to us and want to put an end to austerity," Hollande told a cheering crowd in Paris after the election. "Europe is watching us. Austerity can no longer be the only option."

France isn't the only country having second thoughts about the austerity ideology that has dominated European fiscal policy since the Greek debt crisis began in 2009. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party suffered heavy losses in local elections as voters rebelled against spending and welfare cuts. In Italy, voter discontent with fiscal austerity is bubbling up with rising support for protest parties, including one headed by a comedian who wants to see the country default on its debt. And on the same day as the French election, voters in Greece overwhelmingly repudiated European austerity policies and the lawmakers forced to implement them. Greeks punished their ruling parties in parliamentary elections, turning to an array of anti-bailout parties on the far right and far left and leaving Greek politics in disarray. "European leaders and especially Merkel have to understand that austerity policies have suffered defeat," said leftist leader Alexis Tsipras, whose young party came in a surprising second and was given an opportunity to form a government.

Though another round of elections may be required to get one, a campaign promise by Tsipras has had broad resonance — to cancel the bailout-loan agreement that imposed severe economic pain on Greece, an act that would almost certainly intensify the European debt crisis and could even lead to a full-scale Greek default and exit from the euro. That in turn could further destabilize the increasingly fragile European monetary union and worsen recessions in much larger countries like Italy and Spain. For now, Germany is standing firm, but the pressure to relent is growing on Merkel, as it will on the new President of France, who has promised a kinder, gentler response to Europe's troubles. "It can't all be sacrifice. Effort must be made to nurture, and with it hope," Hollande told TIME in a recent interview. But if there's anything that's become clear, it's that Europeans aren't hopeful. They're angry, and it's not clear that Europe's political elite can cool that anger.

Flanby to the Rescue
The French presidency is one of the most powerful political positions in Europe, which makes Hollande's background all the more unusual. Before he stepped down as head of France's Socialist Party in 2008, Hollande's highest-profile national positions were as a junior adviser to then President François Mitterrand in the 1980s and a member of Parliament for several terms. The mother of his four children, former Socialist Party head Ségolène Royal — who lost to Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential elections — had long been better known than the colorless Hollande. (He and Royal separated in 2007, and since then Hollande has been with Valérie Trierweiler, a journalist for Paris Match.) Though he has the first-class educational training of France's bureaucratic elite, his résumé compares poorly with that of Sarkozy, who came to national attention as France's youngest mayor in 1983 and served numerous terms as a government minister before becoming President in 2007. Averse to confrontation, Hollande has been nicknamed Flanby, after the wobbly caramel custard, including by some members of his own party. "He doesn't have the stature to be President," sniffed former First Lady Bernadette Chirac in March as she pressed the bid of Sarkozy (who headed the Interior Ministry, among other portfolios, for her husband Jacques). "Being President requires a lot of experience, long political training."

But after five years of Sarkozy's brash, even vulgar style, Hollande's genial dullness came as a relief to many in France. While somewhat stiff in formal settings, Hollande can be engaging and amiable in person and is known for zipping around on his scooter, which he'll likely have to give up riding now. Compare that with the bling-bling presidency of Sarkozy, who famously vacationed after his 2007 win on the yacht of a billionaire friend in the Mediterranean. "François dislikes brutality, avoids imposing his will on people and much prefers motivating people into doing what he wants them to do," says Bernard Poignant, the Socialist mayor of the city of Quimper and a close friend of Hollande's. "He usually gets what he wants, which we've now once again seen."

Even so, Hollande had to struggle to connect with a deeply dissatisfied French public. Two extreme candidates — Le Pen and the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon — earned more votes combined than Hollande in the first round of the elections. In the end, Hollande was able to edge past Sarkozy in the second round by tapping into French anger about finance and wealth that had only grown as the debt crisis worsened. In 2006, Hollande admitted, "I don't like the rich," and in January he declared that "my real enemy is the world of finance" and promised to raise income taxes on the affluent — including a 75% rate for those earning more than $1.3 million annually. (The current rate is 41%.) He pledged to create 150,000 state-subsidized jobs for youth to battle an unemployment rate nearing 10% and to roll back Sarkozy's major achievement, reform of the swamped pension system, by returning the retirement age for some workers to 60 from 62. It was a platform made for France's 99%. "There need to be signs of fairness and of equal treatment across society," Hollande told TIME on a campaign outing.

Still, while his campaign slogan was "Change now," that change may have been more about rhetoric than actual policy, especially when it comes to dealing with Europe's toxic debt crisis. He has been a vocal opponent of the Sarkozy-Merkel austerity-only policies designed to save the European monetary union, but supporters note that Hollande advised mentor Mitterrand ahead of the euro's conception in the 1990s and has no desire to kill the currency. For all his leftist talk on the campaign trail, Hollande is center-leaning and has acknowledged the need to reduce France's huge $2.2 trillion public debt. While the German Chancellor will surely miss Sarkozy — she made the unusual move of publicly supporting her counterpart's re-election bid — supporters say she may find Hollande more cooperative than she expects. "They'll get on fine," predicts Alain Duhamel, a French political analyst.

But that assumes that Merkel will take Sarkozy's loss and the simultaneous revolts in Greece as evidence that Germany needs to compromise on austerity. There's no indication yet that Berlin is softening, though it's clear austerity without growth stimulus can't keep the troubled euro viable. Hollande has proposed a range of pro-growth policies, including the creation of a public investment bank and tax breaks for small business, incentives for companies to retain workers and deployment of E.U. financial institutions to ease the euro crisis and underwrite E.U. infrastructure projects.

Still, investors who are jittery about rising government debt will watch to see if the new President weakens rather than strengthens the nation's finances in an attempt to stimulate growth. While Hollande has called for a renegotiation of the compact on debt reduction that European leaders adopted in March to add growth capacities, Merkel considers the matter closed. At a news conference on May 7, she explained her rationale for holding the line on spending, arguing that the debt crisis was a consequence of coordinated stimulus spending in the first phase of the European financial crisis. "We are in the middle of a debate to which France, of course, under its new President, will bring its own emphasis," she said. "But we are talking about two sides of the same coin. Progress is achievable only via solid finances plus growth."

Europe will find out soon how Hollande and Merkel get along — the new French President is set to visit Berlin shortly after his inauguration — though the fact that mostly British newspapers have already begun to refer to their partnership as "Merde" does not bode well. Still, the rumblings of discontent with German austerity are only going to grow louder as Europe's economic outlook grows bleaker. Even Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who was not elected but appointed by Parliament, said the outcome of the French vote was a "call for a reflection on European policies." And if the European elite think the French are angry, wait until they hear from the Greeks.

Protest Vote

There are times when an election is less about forming a government than it is about registering a barely coherent cry of rage. That's what happened in Greece on May 6, when voters who had grown increasingly angry over the straitjacket fiscal policies forced on them by the European bailout had the chance to make that unhappiness known at the ballot box. By the time the smoke cleared, PASOK and New Democracy, the two parties that have dominated Greek politics for nearly 40 years, had received a combined 32% of the vote — less than half of what they had garnered during the previous elections, in 2009. Angry voters even gave 7% of the vote and 21 seats in Parliament to the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, which is fond of using Nazi symbols and salutes. No party or coalition had enough support to form a government. "What the electorate wanted to do was punish," says Kevin Featherstone, a professor of contemporary Greek studies at the London School of Economics.

Given the amount of punishment the Greek people have endured over the past few years — made worse by the austerity measures pushed through to satisfy euro-zone demands — you can't really blame them. Unemployment has spiked to a record 21%, more than 100,000 small businesses have closed since the beginning of the crisis, and wages and pensions have been slashed. Gangs of hooded protesters take to the streets of Athens during demonstrations to vent their anger, attacking banks and clashing with tear-gas-throwing riot police. Homelessness is on the rise, and the government says the number of suicides has jumped by at least 40% in the past two years. "This has got to end before the country completely collapses," says Aris Papadopoulos, 36, a computer scientist who lives in Athens. "Everyone is going to leave for jobs abroad because there won't be anything left for Greece."

Papadopoulos voted for Syriza, a coalition of radical left and green groups led by Tsipras, a young engineer known for shouting down pro-bailout politicians in Parliament. About half of Greeks voted for anti-bailout parties. Whoever forms a governing coalition, it's clear that the Greek elections will have ramifications beyond Athens. "We want to send a message to Europe from the country where austerity policies started," Rena Dourou, a parliamentary deputy for Syriza, told TIME after the elections. "We want to stay in the euro zone so we can change the euro zone's policies, because those policies are unfair to people. But we won't stay if Europe gives us no choice but austerity."

Could Greece really abandon the euro after all this? It's looking increasingly possible. In a May 7 research note, Citigroup analysts pegged the chances of a Greek euro exit at 50% to 75% over the next 12 to 18 months, largely because there's no viable government that looks willing to implement austerity measures required by Greece's creditors. If no ruling coalition is formed soon, there will be new elections next month, and political scientists say centrist parties may stand a better chance now that Greek voters have had the chance to vent their spleen. "In the next stage, they're going to vote with solutions in mind," says Featherstone.

Perhaps, although the evidence is mounting that European voters know the solutions needed to keep the euro going but simply don't like them very much. It's not just the worrying rise of far-right and far-left parties, which are united by an outright hostility to the idea of European political and fiscal unity; there appears to be a growing disconnect between public support for the euro and public support for the harsh measures being prescribed to save it. No one wants to endure the budget cuts and wage decreases, and any leader who tries to stand up for those sacrifices risks earning a ticket out of office. As long as that's the case, the European debt crisis will remain inescapable — and democracy will keep endangering the euro.

But if democracy can be messy, it has the benefit of letting leaders know exactly how their citizens feel and how much they're willing to bear. The anti-austerity wave that helped elect Hollande and pulverized the Greek government is the sort of political siren that can't be ignored. European voters are rejecting severe austerity not just because it's painful but also because it isn't working: borrowing costs remain high while economic prospects remain bleak for many of the euro zone's weaker economies. Hollande may not be a forceful personality, but he is in a unique position to jolt Merkel into permitting a glimmer of stimulus — and hope as well. "People need to see that while the collective effort may be long and difficult, it's going to be fair and involve everyone," Hollande told TIME. And if Europe's leaders can't do that, Europe's voters know what to do.

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