Last Wednesday night, I sat in the press stalls inside the main hall of Greece’s parliament watching a critical bill being debated. While Americans were still distracted by the results of their own election, Greece’s ruling coalition, made up of three parties that straddle the center, was struggling to pass new cuts and reforms necessary for continued financial help for the debt-ridden country. As the measure was attacked by deputies from SYRIZA, the hard-left official opposition, and the populist-right Independent Greeks, I heard yelling and commotion from inside the parliament building. My first thought was that the tens of thousands of protesters who had gathered outside in the pouring rain had broken through the lines of police and made it into the building.
France exists in the American imagination mostly in caricatured form. On matters of sex, in particular, the French are thought of as being ahead of the curve, transcending the bounds of traditional morality—a perception shared by American progressives, who admire them for being liberated, and by conservatives, who consider them amoral libertines.
It may therefore come as a surprise that on matters of gay marriage and the full legal recognition of gay couples, France has lagged behind both the United States, where nine states recognize same-sex marriage, and a number of other European countries. But this is about to change: A few days ago, the French cabinet approved a draft bill on the legalization of gay marriage and adoption in accordance with the pre-election pledges of socialist president François Hollande. If passed, the bill, which is due for debate in parliament in late January, will make France the ninth country in Europe and the seventh in the European Union to recognize gay marriage.
The much-maligned and long-drawn-out project to save the euro faced two crucial tests on Wednesday. The first bit of good news for those who do not want to see the euro area break up came in the morning, when Germany’s constitutional court gave the green light for the operation of the European Stability Mechanism, the Eurozone’s permanent rescue fund. Then, at night, there was further cause for rejoicing: In parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, it emerged that Dutch voters had returned an unexpectedly clear pro-European verdict, rejecting the far right’s anti-bailout populism and the hard left’s more moderate skepticism of the euro.
It has been a long time since Europe has featured so prominently in an American presidential race. Republicans, in particular, have seen the crisis plaguing the Eurozone as an opportunity to attack president Obama, who—they claim—is leading America away from its core values and towards the sickly collectivism prevalent in the European Union. Mitt Romney, in one of those hilarious-but-horrifying Republican debates last September, spoke of a president “taking his inspiration […] from the socialist democrats in Europe," before pointing out that he, in contrast, believed in America.