The rise of the fringes is not limited to France. In Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is marching ahead in the polls — and may win a dozen or so seats in parliament.
And it was a right-wing politician stridently critical of Islam who brought down the government of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte this week. Geert Wilders, whose support was critical to Rutte's minority government, decided to withdraw his support over the government's budget-cutting plans.
"With the Rutte government's resignation, the pro-cyclical austerity course in Europe has once again proven to be the biggest disposal program for governments in recent history," Germany's Financial Times Deutschland commented in an editorial Tuesday.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble criticized Wilders' actions in acid tones.
"We have always known that, if one votes for radical right-wing euro-skeptic parties and xenophobes, one makes democracy not more stable but more unstable," Schaeuble said. "That can be seen now in Holland. So my advice is, don't vote that way."
But as Europe evolves, the Germans may wind up the big losers. They have been the most insistent on enforcing austerity, warning of the "moral hazard" of helping out countries that have not endured sufficient pain as a result of past lapses in discipline.
Now, it is possible that the future of Europe may lie with politicians like Hollande, who is favored to defeat Sarkozy in the presidential runoff. Hollande has promised to increase taxes on the rich, create 60,000 new teaching jobs and subsidize 150,000 jobs for young people.
On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was still staunchly defending her insistence on austerity.
"I want to say clearly, it is not the case that we say saving solves every problem but, if you at home talk about how you want to shape your life tolerably, then one of the first conditions is that you somehow get by with what you earn," she said.
Still, at least some economists are now calling for a return to priming the pump — even at the cost of higher deficits.
"There can be no fiscal sustainability across Europe as a whole without a return to economic growth," Tilford said.
Juergen Baetz in Berlin, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report. Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin
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