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With Sarkozy Out, Anti-Austerity Gains Ground


More now on that reality. The 17 nations that use the euro have been trying for years to contain a debt crisis that now threatens their currency and possibly the European Union with it.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports on the ripple that those elections in France and Greece have sent across the larger political landscape.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Let's reflect for a moment on what's been happening in Europe. Since the debt crisis began, a dozen governments have fallen. Three countries, Greece, Ireland and Portugal have gone bust and taken huge bailouts. Unemployment in some eurozone nations has reached record levels, especially among the young. Half the people in Spain under 25 are without work.

Prosperous, smooth-running countries have been stripped of their coveted AAA credit ratings. The crisis started in the banks, whose executive are still pocketing huge bonuses. Europe's public is paying the price.

NGAIRE WOODS: And that's creating a degree of anger in the political systems of Europe, which we haven't seen for a very long time. And that is leading to a very tense and difficult landscape.

REEVES: Professor Ngaire Woods of the Global Economic Governance program at Oxford University says that landscape is changing.

WOODS: People in every country in Europe are becoming more frightened, more unemployed and more vulnerable. And as a result, they're turning to nationalist parties, parties of the extreme, whether it's the extreme left or the extreme right. That makes cooperation even more difficult across the eurozone.

REEVES: Europe's leaders are a fractious bunch, have always found it difficult to cooperate, balancing their national interests with those of Europe is hard. They've struggled from the get-go to contain the debt crisis. Now, say analysts, that's become harder still. Europe's heavyweights - France and Germany - have led the fight. The French have gone along with Germany's policy of enforcing strict fiscal discipline on wayward eurozone nations.

Now that's changing. France's new president, Francois Hollande believes austerity is killing economies. He wants a tilt towards growth. That means changing the partnership between France and Germany. And that, says Peter Mandelson, a former European commissioner, means Europe is a different place.

PETER MANDELSON: Well, you're going to see Europe's political landscape and the balance of its thinking change with Francois Hollande's victory.

REEVES: Peter Mandelson thinks the French and the Germans are far too worried about saving the eurozone from breaking up to fall out. He says they know this isn't the time to be arguing.

MANDELSON: Because the consequent collapse of confidence by investors and the debt markets would cripple Europe's recovery prospects even further. You are, however, going to see a different European consensus emerging. You're going to see a much more nuanced policy mix. And in my view, if it's gotten right, the markets would, in fact, welcome this.

REEVES: Will the markets really welcome this? Their practice of ruthlessly driving up borrowing costs is a big part of the eurozone's problem. Greek bonds sold to 23 percent after news spread that in yesterday's indecisive election Greek voters in anti-austerity move turned away from the main parties who supported their massive bailout.

Pippa Malmgren, co-founder of Principalis Asset Management used to advise President George W. Bush on financial markets. She thinks what's happening in Europe raises fundamental issues.

PIPPA MALMGREN: First, it tells us that the deal we had, which was Germany would do its best to find ways to keep interest rates down across Europe in exchange for everyone agreeing to hand over sovereignty over their fiscal affairs to Brussels. And now, most of these governments, it's not only France. We see it also in the Dutch government, falling recently, are saying no. So, that means the markets are going to attack again.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.