M. Hollande can be described as an austerity sceptic. In other words, he questions the wisdom of trying to meet the target agreed by eurozone countries of reducing public-sector deficits to no more than 3% of GDP.
If elected, M. Hollande promises to adopt a more Keynesian stance of stimulating demand in order to prevent a slide into recession. This would mean a reversal of cuts and a growth, at least temporarily, of the public-sector deficit.
Currently France’s deficit is much higher than the 3% target. In 2010 it was 7.1%; in 2011 it had fallen somewhat to 5.2%. But it is set to rise in 2012, thanks to the slowing economy in France and most of the rest of Europe.
And it is not just in France that ‘austerity sceptics’ are on the ascendant. In the Netherlands the centre right government of Mark Rutte fell. He was unable to get his coalition partners to agree to sufficient cuts to achieve the 3% target. And yet, the Netherland’s deficit is considerably lower than most eurozone countries’. In 2012 it is projected to be just 4.6% of GDP.
So if doubts about the 3% target could lead to a change in policy in the Netherlands and France, what hope is there that the targets could be adhered to by countries with much larger deficits and where the pain of the cuts is already causing political turmoil?
The growth in austerity scepticism has spooked the markets. The day following M. Hollande’s first round victory and the fall of Mark Rutte’s government, stock markets around Europe plummeted and bond prices rose. The higher bond prices will make it even harder for governments to refinance maturing government debt. Take the case of France. As Robert Peston remarks in his article below:
According to IMF figures, 59% of France’s government debt is held overseas – which means that well over half of all lending to the French state is not motivated by sentimentality or patriotism in any way.
To put that figure into context, just 24.8% of UK general government debt is provided by foreigners.
Perhaps more relevantly, the French government has to borrow a colossal sum equivalent to 18.2% of GDP this year and 19.5% next year to finance debt that is maturing and the current deficit.
So what are the implications of the rise in austerity scepticism? Will it make deficits harder to finance? Will a collapse of confidence push the eurozone into a deep recession. Might the eurozone break apart? Or will a dose of Keynesian policies turn the tide and allow growth to resume, making it easier to service government debts? The following articles explore the issues?
François Hollande was indeed elected president on 6 May. The question now is to what extent he will be able to enact measures to simulate the economy. In his campaign he had talked about renegotiating the European treaty on budget discipline. Angela Merkel, responding to M. Hollande’s victory, said that the European fiscal treaty had been agreed and could not be renegotiated. Nevertheless, she said she was happy to consider new growth strategies that did not involve increased budget deficits.
François Hollande’s potential spending spree in France has caused concern in austerity Europe The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (23/4/12)
European turmoil, American collateral Guardian, Robin Wells (24/4/12)
Political risk returns to eurozone debt crisis Financial Times, Richard Milne (23/4/12)
The rise of Europe’s austerity foes Business Spectator, Karen Maley (23/3/12)
Europe: A crisis of the centre BBC News, Paul Mason (24/4/12)
Is Hollande enemy or prisoner of finance? BBC News, Robert Peston (23/4/12)
President Hollande and the IMF BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (23/4/12)
French Bond Yields Test Hollande’s Economic Fealty Bloomberg, Mark Deen and Anchalee Worrachate (24/4/12)
Dutch and French politics bring us back to reality BusinessDay (South Africa), Ron Derby (24/4/12)
Crisis topples governments like dominos Deutsche Welle, Bernd Riegert (24/4/12)
Eurozone leaders push for growth BBC News (25/4/12)
Additonal articles (after 6 May)
Francois Hollande to set France on new course after win BBC News (7/5/12)
Europe elections: German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Francois Hollande but warns Greece The Telegraph, 7/5/12)
A Merkel-Hollande bust-up? Less likely than you might think Guardian, Philip Oltermann (7/5/12)
Merkel Rejects Stimulus in Challenge to Hollande BloombergBusinessweek, Patrick Donahue and Tony Czuczka (7/5/12)
François Hollande’s chemistry with Angela Merkel crucial for Europe Guardian, Ian Traynor (7/5/12)
Q&A: End of austerity? BBC News (7/5/12)
Austerity and the people’s verdict Guardian letters, Shanti Chakravarty and others (8/5/12)
Europe: The big debate BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (11/5/12)
European Economy: Economic data Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission
Eurozone Statistics ECB
French Economic Statistics INSEE, National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies
Netherlands Statistics CBS, Statistics Netherlands