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by Euro Reporter
2012-03-19 07:46:17
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In Europe’s capitals, a muted debate about taxes and spending

The Socialist candidate in France’s presidential election, Francois Hollande, promised recently that if elected he would impose a whopping 75 percent income tax on all earnings over a million Euros. Hollande’s conservative opponent, President Nicolas Sarkozy, immediately denounced the idea as a demagogic attack on highly paid executives. But two weeks later, Sarkozy announced his own soak-the-rich pledge: Families that reside abroad to flee high levies here will have to pay French income taxes or lose their nationality.

Fiscal specialists point out that both measures were political gestures, designed to win votes by flattering traditional resentment of the wealthy among France’s working class. Because they would hit few people, the specialists said, neither measure would substantially reduce the colossal French government debt that helped push Europe into a dangerous yearlong financial crisis from which it only now is emerging. Despite the depths of that crisis, the question of whether to raise taxes is intruding only modestly in European politics, usually with populist pitches such as those made by Hollande and Sarkozy. The terms of the debate make for a sharp contrast with the United States, where President Obama and his Republican rivals spar regularly over whether to let taxes rise modestly for the very wealthy or to cut them further — and over how much to rely on spending cuts as part of the equation to trim deficits.

In France, as in most European countries, the main tactic for reducing the deficit and carving back debt has been to reduce expenditures. The emphasis on cutbacks was a natural reaction by the conservative governments in power among the main countries that use the euro, the European Union’s common currency. In part, this is because Europeans, with expensive social-protection systems to finance, already are taxed to the hilt. In addition, economists agree that added taxes would inhibit growth even further — and growth is what Europe desperately needs to pull out of the crisis for good. The focus on spending cuts generated angry opposition from labour unions and leftist parties, which demanded more emphasis on growth as a way out of the crisis.

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Far-right presidential hopeful Le Pen clears crucial election hurdle


The far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen today qualified to be on the ballot, just ahead of a deadline that would have shut her out.  Ms. Le Pen, who has castigated immigration and the growing presence of Islam in France and wants France to leave the eurozone, has been a volatile and popular candidate here, whose attack-style is admired by many French.  As of yesterday she was 15 signatures shy of the 500 necessary to stand for French high office in the first round of elections on April 22. Today, Le Pen said she had reached 500.

Although Le Pen has steadily polled in third place, between 15 and 19 percent, she struggled to obtain the necessary number of signatures because they must come from local elected officials. *The French far right has always exerted more influence than its results at the ballot box suggest. Polls aired in Paris last month had nearly 30 percent of French considering Le Pen as a candidate or at least agreeing with her views. Mainstream politics in France, as in the rest of Europe, have shifted to the right for at least a half-decade. Le Pen's National Front party is perceived as siphoning off votes from centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is fighting hard to be re-elected. But today, polls for the first time showed Mr. Sarkozy outscoring Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in the first round of elections, although he remains 9 points behind Hollande in an expected runoff on May 5. Under French election rules, a candidate that does not reach 50 percent in the initial election faces a second round run off.

Sarkozy forces may have hoped privately that Le Pen would not reach the 500 mark, but many consider the failure of a candidate running third in the polls to reach the ballot box an embarrassment to French democracy. Under French election rules, the 500 signatures must come from some 41,000 local mayors and town officials. Le Pen struggled to gain their support because officials do not wish to be associated with her lightening rod name and extreme views since the signatures are made public. Blonde and telegenic, Le Pen is the daughter of Europe’s most famous nationalist, Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose popular, blunt, and folksy style were matched by what was often seen as a racist and sometimes anti-Semitic French nationalism. Le Pen fille has taken a different strategy. She presents herself as a softer nationalist: friendly to Jews and homosexuals, savvy and more ardently patriotic – more a Joan of Arc than an Orthodox hardliner. However, she has also compared Muslims praying on Paris streets to a Nazi occupation, ardently opposed the European Union (“Brussels is destroying Greece. It will next ravage Italy and Spain, and eventually... us,” she said about the euro crisis this month), and heaped scorn on Sarkozy, sharing her father’s skill with the satirical political barb.

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Sarkozy denies taking money from Kaddafi


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has denied taking money from the Kaddafi family during his 2007 run for France's highest office, calling the allegation "grotesque." He said the late Libyan dictator Moammar Kaddafi was "known for talking nonsense," and challenged his son Saif al-Islam Kaddafi to produce records of the donations. Sarkozy was responding to allegations which surfaced on the Internet ahead of the French presidential election scheduled for April 22. "I am sorry that a big channel like TF1 is taking from information from the documents from Mr. Kaddafi or his son," Sarkozy said in the interview, which aired on Monday night on TF1.

"When one quotes Mr. Kaddafi, who is dead, or his son, who is standing trial, the credibility is zero. And when you drag up their accounts with these questions you are asking, you quite degrade this political debate," he said in an attack on interviewer Laurence Ferrari. Kaddafi was toppled in a civil war last year and killed after several months in hiding. His one-time heir apparent, Saif al-Islam was captured by Libya's new authorities and is awaiting trial. It's the second time in as many weeks that Sarkozy has made headlines with a nationally televised interview.

Last week, he said France has too many foreigners and is not integrating them properly. "Today we have a problem," Sarkozy said on France 2 TV on March 6. "Our system of integration is working worse and worse, because we have too many foreigners on our territory and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school," he said. France places a premium on national identity, pressing the population to put "Frenchness" before religion or national background.



        
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