'Mister Marshmallow' does it again

Amid all the drama of the elections in Cairo and Greece over the weekend, another huge electoral shake-up produced an absolute majority for the French Socialist Party of newly elected President Francois Hollande.

So the second biggest economy in the eurozone is going to be run by Socialists. Although the French party is more of a social-democrat variety, Hollande is still a taxer and spender. His first act after being elected last month was to lower — yes, you got that right — the pension age to 60, partially reversing a reform by his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande has pledged to reduce the deficit while using government funds to stimulate the economy, with unemployment running at 10 percent, the highest rate in 13 years. But how he can do that as well as fund the hiring of 60,000 teachers, as he pledged in the electoral campaign, will require a magician’s touch. Big earners have already been warned that they will face higher taxes.

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Hollande’s victory is a major achievement for somebody derided only a few weeks ago as a soft and wobbly “Mister Marshmallow” (Flanby, in French). Yesterday’s victory gives the Socialists unprecedented control over all the levers of power. How he will use that power within the constraints of a European Union dominated by conservative governments — the right-wing New Democracy party narrowly won in Greece — remains to be seen. In particular, German chancellor Angela Merkel remains skeptical about Hollande’s plans for a “growth pact.”

The French election threw up a few interesting footnotes: On the personal front, Hollande’s ex-partner Ségolène Royal was defeated, destroying her hopes of becoming speaker of the National Assembly. It’s a big deal because not only is she the mother of his four children, Royal is also a former minister who previously ran as a presidential candidate. She is bitter in defeat, talking about “political treason” after Hollande’s current girlfriend, journalist Valérie Trierweiler, set Twitter on fire by tweeting in support of Royal’s rival. In France, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Also noteworthy was the defeat of Francois Bayrou, the leader of the centrist party who probably doomed his chances by throwing his weight behind Hollande. And the election of (two) extreme-right National Front MPs for the first time in two decades.

Yesterday, the French voted against political paralysis in their country. But what happened this weekend in Europe will do nothing to solve the long-term problems of economic stagnation in the eurozone. The financial markets realized that this morning. This crisis has also been one of European leadership. Bold action is still needed to save the single currency.