ATHENS, Greece French and Greek leaders who backed the European Union's severe austerity measures are likely to take a drubbing when both countries hold national elections Sunday, raising pressures on EU leaders to ease the tough fiscal constraints they adopted to head off the euro crisis.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy was trailing his Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, by six percentage points in polls Friday and appealed to the country's "silent majority" to save his government and give him a second term in office.
Hollande, after capturing the endorsement of centrist Francois Bayrou, who had won 9.1 percent of the votes in the first round two weeks ago, urged voters to give him enough support so that he can act once in office and not be "a hobbled victor."
Hollande has promised to renegotiate the European Union's "fiscal pact," which sets tight budget rules, and he called for a "growth pact" in order to stimulate stagnant economies and add new jobs.
There are many politicians here and in Spain who hope that he can sway German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who with Sarkozy had led the EU's drive for austerity and tight budgeting in the face of slumping economies.
In their nationally televised debate Wednesday, Sarkozy sounded almost desperate as he accused Hollande of lying, even as Hollande called for "bringing together" his countrymen after years of divisiveness at the hands of Sarkozy.
In Greece, the two centrist parties that have ruled in an uneasy interim government since late last year may see their popular support collapse. Backing for PASOK, the Greek socialist party, which currently has the most seats in Parliament, could plummet to as low as 12 percent from 44 percent at the last elections in 2009, while the right-of-center New Democracy party may fall to 20 percent or 25 percent, from 33 percent, according to polling data obtained by McClatchy Newspapers.
The electoral shift expected in both countries, coming after the fall of leaders in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, has gotten the attention of EU leaders. Herman van Rompuy of Belgium, president of the European Council, has said he may call for a special summit of European leaders.
On Friday night, Evangelos Venizelos, the PASOK party leader, warned that Greece might have to abandon the euro if his party fails. "Sunday will decide if we stay in Europe and in the euro," he said, "or if we send the country down the road of bankruptcy and its people to massive poverty."
The likelihood that Greek voters will reject their current leaders prompted an explicit warning from Germany something that is almost certain to go down badly here. "The future government in Greece must abide by the country's commitments," Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, said Friday, the Reuters news agency reported.