May 6, 2012 / 11:37 AM / 6 years ago

French in Greece want a vote against austerity

* Greeks hope Hollande will bring change in Europe

* Both elections held on Sunday

* German agenda deeply unpopular

By Ingrid Melander

ATHENS, May 6 (Reuters) - “Enough is enough. There is too much austerity,” 72-year old Maria said as she cast a ballot for Socialist Francois Hollande at the French consulate in Athens, before heading to a Greek polling station to back a leftist party.

Like many Greeks angered by the economic hardship imposed in exchange for an international bailout, the bi-national pensioner hopes Hollande will win Sunday’s French election and turn Europe away from a German-led agenda focused tightly on cutting debt.

That agenda has made Germany extremely unpopular here and pushed voters in Greece’s parallel poll on Sunday away from the two biggest parties, which support the bailout, and towards a host of small groups opposing it.

Hollande’s pro-growth pledges have struck a chord with many in recession-hit Greece, including Maria, who said in French with a lilting Greek accent that “a change of government in France can be positive for Greece and for all of Europe.”

The Socialist contender, who is expected to beat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday’s election, has campaigned as a critic of austerity policies associated with the alliance between the French president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

If elected, he has said he would seek to renegotiate a European budget discipline treaty to put more emphasis on growth.

“I didn’t like the Sarkozy-Merkel alliance,” Mina Korovessi, a French-Greek mother of four, said to explain why she voted for Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round and Hollande in the second.

Korovessi wasn’t sure yet who she would support in Greece. But like many Greeks there was “no way” she would vote for the conservative New Democracy or Socialist PASOK, who have ruled for decades and backed unpopular EU/IMF bailouts that fended off bankruptcy but caused deep hardship.

HOPE

Tax hikes and spending cuts meant to put Greece’s derailed finances back on track have dragged the economy into its fifth straight year of recession, with one in two youths unemployed and private sector wages down 25 percent last year alone.

As dozens queued outside the French consulate in Athens, opposite the stadium where the first Olympic Games of modern times were organised at the instigation of Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, many said the medicine was killing the patient and they hoped a new French president would help.

“The Greeks have much hope in Hollande, they have had enough of austerity, they want a growth plan. This is what Hollande is proposing and I hope that will be positive for Greece,” said Cedric, a 42-year old French executive working in shipping.

Hollande’s margin of manoeuvre will be limited by the need to compromise with euro zone paymaster Germany. Merkel aides say she is not opposed in principle to any of Hollande’s ideas but opposes stimulus measures that rely on government money.

There are more than 8,000 French registered to vote in Greece, most of them in Athens. At the consulate polling station, nearly a third of voters cast a ballot for Hollande in the first round of the election, placing him slightly ahead of Sarkozy like in the rest of France.

Unlike in France however, Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon had a strong showing of 21 percent and far-right Marine Le Pen scored less than 5 percent.

Susanne, a French-Greek in her early 40s, said she was voting for the first time in a French election, pushed by the crisis to take a stand, as did a 56-year-old Frenchwoman who cast a vote for the first time in her 30 years living in Greece.

“The situation in Greece pushed me to come and vote,” said the 56-year old, who declined to give her name. “There is too much suffering, too many lies.” (Reporting by Ingrid Melander; editing by Barry Moody)

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