The drama never ends. The past few weeks have seen another sudden change in the eurozone's political-economic complexion. Four or five weeks ago, the continent seemed to have established a pretty firm consensus for fiscal austerity. Since then, the government in the Netherlands has fallen over the question of austerity, and elections in France and Greece have all but quashed any such conviction. Street protests in Athens, Madrid and elsewhere have also spoken to the breadth of anti-austerity feeling.

The original emphasis on austerity was always a German stance. Since Germany, Europe's largest economy and also arguably its healthiest, was destined to carry the burden in any bailout, Merkel's demand for budget control is certainly understandable. The Danes, the Dutch, the French—then under President Nicolas Sarkozy—and others signed on, either because they agreed with the Germans or because they decided that the appearance of unity was important. The accord, signed late last year, fell short of the "fiscal union" of which some spoke—effectively a eurozone-wide approach to budgeting—but it sought strict rules on the relative size of each member's deficits and its outstanding public debt. The austerity seekers even agreed to impose fines on nations that violated the rules.

If this agreement ever captured a consensus, it did not last long. The election in France of the Socialist presidential candidate, Francois Hollande, showed a thorough rejection of austerity. Indeed, Hollande's campaign to unseat Sarkozy rested on demands for an easier, pro-growth fiscal policy, especially on the spending side of the budget. The Greek elections turned out the government that had negotiated the rescue and the connected austerity regime and put in its place not just an anti-austerity plurality, but a significant number of euro-skeptic politicians as well. Regional elections in Germany rejected Merkel and austerity, as have recent regional elections in Italy. Not too long before the French, Greek and other elections, governments in the Netherlands and Slovakia fell over the issue of austerity. Still earlier, the Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi fell over questions about austerity, and though Berlusconi's technocratic successor, Mario Monti, has felt a need to placate the Germans, he has nonetheless questioned the exclusive focus on austerity that characterizes the German approach.

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