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by Euro Reporter
2012-02-16 07:40:29
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Sarkozy launches presidential election

President Nicolas Sarkozy formally declared his candidacy for a second term Wednesday seeking to overturn a wide poll lag with promises to get the unemployed back to work and use referendums to consult the French people on reforms. The centre-right president, who trails Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in opinion polls, ended weeks of speculation over the timing of his bid by saying that like a sea captain in a storm, he could not "abandon my post."

"Yes I am a candidate for the presidential election," he told TF1 channel's evening news program, saying a "strong France" would protect people from global economic turmoil. Dozens of polls show Hollande would beat Sarkozy by up to 15 points in a May 6 runoff, but the president's allies hope his dynamic campaigning style will allow him to narrow the gap before an April 22 first round. Despite a disapproval rating of 68 percent, Sarkozy hopes to present himself as an experienced leader who can drag France out of an economic slump and overcome the euro zone crisis.

"If you want to make me say I haven't achieved everything, that is for sure. I don't know anyone who has succeeded in everything," Sarkozy said. It was the nearest he came to apologizing for the unfulfilled promises of his five-year term. "What sort of campaign will I run? I will try to tell the truth. To ask the right questions and to offer strong ideas and say to the French 'choose now'." With unemployment stuck at a 12-year high of 9.3 percent and a stream of news about companies closing or relocating production abroad, Sarkozy -- who took office in 2007 pledging a return to full employment -- said he would focus on retraining the unemployed to get them back to work. After being accused of not listening to popular discontent over pension reforms and tax measures during his five years in power, Sarkozy pledged to consult voters on his reform program if re-elected.

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France may avoid recession after Q4 tops forecasts


France's economy showed surprise growth in the fourth quarter as companies invested more and consumers continued to spend, suggesting the euro zone's second largest economy may avoid a recession this year.  Preliminary data from the INSEE national statistics office on Wednesday showed that gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter, bringing growth for 2011 as a whole to 1.7 percent, in line with a government forecast.  A Reuters poll of 36 economists had predicted on average a 0.1 percent contraction in GDP in the fourth quarter.  It was the first time since the beginning of 2009 that French growth outperformed neighbouring Germany and could improve the chances of President Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of presidential elections in late April.

The German economy contracted 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter, partly due to a slowdown in export demand from troubled European countries.  "This is a good surprise ... France should avoid a recession," said Michel Martinez, chief France economist at Societe Generale in Paris. "We may see a contraction in the first quarter, but we already have indicators pointing to a recovery from the second quarter onwards."

The main positive surprise came from business investment which grew by 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter, after a contraction of 0.4 percent in the third, with a notable pick up in spending by car manufacturers.  Growth in household consumption, the motor of France's 2 trillion euro economy, slowed only slightly to 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter from 0.3 percent in the third, despite unemployment running at a 12-year high.

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Socialist hopeful promises to storm the financial Bastille


On a bitterly cold morning in Dijon railway station last week, a diminutive Frenchman exited his train to the kind of fuss and fanfare that has escaped him for most of a 30-year political career. Sweeping down the frosty platform with the unmistakable air of a man in possession of his mojo, François Hollande was greeted by a flurry of victory signs from grinning passengers waiting for the 9.34am to Lausanne to leave. Surrounding him was an impressively large media scrum. "The man of the moment!" said one bystander, as the Socialist candidate for the French presidency paused for another impromptu interview.

Welcome to the new world of the man once derided by opponents as Monsieur Flamby ("Mr Pudding") – a reference both to Hollande's weight and a perceived flabbiness in his political opinions. That nickname seems out of date now, after a campaign-defining speech last month in the tough Paris suburb of Le Bourget. Giving an impassioned and polished attack on the speculation and profiteering that led to the economic crisis that has engulfed Europe, Hollande told the 20,000-strong crowd: "My enemy is the world of finance." Belatedly, French company directors, investment bankers and market movers are waking up to the growing popularity of a presidential candidate who promises to raise taxes on rich individuals and big business in order to boost growth. With the first round of the French elections barely two months away, the polls suggest that Hollande is choosing the right adversaries. On the day he visited Dijon one survey suggested he would win a straight contest with President Nicolas Sarkozy, gaining as much as 60% of the vote.

For a politician habitually described as slightly bland, the transformation into a fêted "tribune of the people" must come as something of a shock. Up until this election campaign Hollande, 57, was known for his love of a joke, his portly mastery of the backroom politics of the Socialist party (PS), and his failed marriage to the former siren of French socialism, Ségolène Royale, who lost the presidential election of 2007. But as he has surged ahead of Sarkozy in the polls, Hollande has slimmed down, sharpened his suits and replaced humour with radical indignation. A commentator in the conservative Le Figaro wryly compared his egalitarian zeal to that of Saint-Just, Robespierre's uncompromising right-hand man in the French revolution.



        
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