When the French go to the polls today for their first stab at choosing a new president, they may also tilt the balance of power in Europe in the midst of the EU's worst crisis.

The expected triumph for François Hollande will do little to resolve Europe's long-running agony of debt and decline. But it is likely to realign the power politics in the EU. "This election will determine the future of Europe," said a senior social democratic MEP in Brussels.

For Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who has struck up a close, if awkward, alliance with Nicolas Sarkozy through more than two years of single-currency turbulence, today's election is more important than many of her domestic campaigns, Der Spiegel said last week. "For Merkel, this is an election like no other, and one that is even more important to her than many German state elections. Whoever wins in France will help drive European policy by her side. If the victor

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