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French report French report
by Euro Reporter
2012-05-05 10:37:49
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Sarkozy set for defeat by socialist

France holds its presidential runoff election Sunday, with Socialist challenger Francois Hollande expected to defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. The latest opinion polls show President Sarkozy narrowing the gap behind his Socialist rival, but Hollande is still expected to emerge victorious. In office five years, President Sarkozy has faced criticism for his handling of the economy, as well as his brash style. “Sarkozy promised what he called 'a rupture' – a break with the past, a liberalization of the French market place. And he has made some incremental steps to tax reform and to try to liberalize the labour market, and he has risen the retirement age – but French growth is really stuck in neutral. And the second thing is that Sarkozy seems to have lost his political touch. Many, many French voters see him as insufficiently 'presidential' – he is down in the trenches. They see him as hyperactive and unable to stick to a steady course.”

Hollande is a veteran politician who headed the Socialist Party for several years, but he has never held a top government post. Friday marked his and Mr. Sarkozy's final day of campaigning. “Don't imagine that your problems will dissipate, evaporate suddenly with the outgoing candidate. No, we will have to work together. I can't disappoint you, that's why I have promised nothing in this campaign that I am not able to live up to. You will not be disappointed, you will not be forgotten. You will be defended, you will be respected because what constitutes our strength, yours and mine, is that you will respect your next president and the next head of state will respect each and everyone one of you for whatever you are, citizens of the Republic. Together on the sixth of May, long live the Republic, long live France.”

The Socialist candidate's presidential bid received a boost Thursday, when former candidate, centrist Francois Bayrou, said he would vote for him. Bayrou won 9 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections last month. President Sarkozy downplayed Bayrou's announcement at a campaign rally Friday. “Each one of us, each one of us has the decision in our hands. Those who don't vote will let others decide for them. Those who vote, will decide with their spirit and conscience, but they should not let others decide for them.” Meanwhile, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who finished third in the first round of balloting last month, said she will not support either candidate in the runoff.  In a televised debate Wednesday, Hollande and Mr. Sarkozy accused each other of lying during exchanges on economic policies. In campaigning, Hollande has blamed the president for France's unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent and called for sweeping changes to improve the nation's public finances.

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Turn for the worse

On Sunday, by almost every indication, François Hollande, who has been leading in the polls for months, will defeat Nicolas Sarkozy and become France’s next president. Hollande’s Socialist Party, which hasn’t ousted an incumbent president in over three decades, has every reason to celebrate. But the true winner of this election isn’t France’s left; it’s Europe’s far right. The reason is simple. In this election, France’s establishment has embraced Islamophobic ideas to an unprecedented degree. Right-wing populism, once a fringe phenomenon, has been conquering the bastions of Europe’s political mainstream with frightening speed; even so, most observers failed to predict the extent to which anti-immigrant themes would shape this campaign. It’s difficult to know whether Europe’s populists are approaching the zenith of their power or will continue their steady rise. But one thing is certain: At no point in Europe’s post-war history has the far right’s influence been as pervasive as it is now.

Two weeks ago, in the first round of the presidential elections, nearly one in five French voters opted for Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extremist Front National party. Marine, who replaced her father, Jean-Marie, as party leader a little over a year ago, has donned a cloak of respectability, severing the organization’s ties to the most flagrant neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups. But the core of her appeal remains unchanged: It consists of hatred of Muslim immigrants, along with everyone else she considers alien to the French nation. Her tactic of giving racism a pretty veneer has clearly worked well. In her first run for president, she already gained a greater share of the vote than her father ever managed to muster. Perhaps worse is the degree to which establishment politicians have imitated Le Pen’s words. In March, Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign spent the better part of two weeks talking about the danger unmarked halal meat allegedly posed to unsuspecting Parisians. After the horrific attacks in Toulouse, Sarkozy briefly dialled down his rhetoric. But since Le Pen’s strong showing in the first round of voting, he has sounded shriller than ever.

In the last several days, Sarkozy has repeatedly spoken of his country’s Christian roots, lamented that there are too many foreigners in France, and called Islam a threat to the nation’s values. An official campaign video released last week plays with people’s xenophobic fears, the camera zooming in on scores of African migrants landing on a European beach as Sarkozy promises to slash immigration. Nobody was taken by surprise, then, when Sarkozy concluded Wednesday night’s nationally televised presidential debate against Hollande with a direct appeal to Le Pen’s followers. What was more surprising about the debate was the extent to which even Hollande tried to appeal to the far right. When Sarkozy contended that tensions between France’s ethnic groups are to be explained by the presence of “Islam in France,” Hollande vowed to uphold a ban on women wearing the burqa in public. When Sarkozy raised the issue of halal meat, Hollande vowed that France’s school cafeterias would not serve a single piece of halal meat during his presidency. Trying to outdo his rival, Hollande went out of his way to emphasize that, unlike Sarkozy, he had favoured a ban on French schoolgirls wearing the veil as early as 2003.

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The economy next president will inherit

Amid a global slowdown, France's economy is suffering. Here is a look at what the country's next president will inherit -- compared to when President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power on May 16, 2007.
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GDP (AT CURRENT PRICES)
2006: (EURO)1.8 trillion
2011: (EURO)2 trillion
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GDP GROWTH
2006: 2.5 percent increase
2011: 1.7 percent increase
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UNEMPLOYMENT
May 2007: 8.7 percent
March 2012: 10 percent
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DEBT TO GDP RATIO
2006: 63.7 percent
2011: 85.8 percent
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DEFICIT TO GDP RATIO
2006: 2.3 percent
2011: 5.2 percent
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BUSINESS CLIMATE SURVEY (AVG:100)
May 2007: 113
April 2012: 95
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VALUE OF EXPORTS
2006: (EURO)486 billion
2011: (EURO)536 billion
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