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Expert Comment: French Presidential Elections

French Flag Wednesday 25 April 2012

Professor Bill Jones, Department of Politics, History, Media and Communications

Europe offers some strange variations in its political complexion. In the wake of the world financial crisis we saw a swing to the right in Spain, the UK, plus Italy and Greece. The September 2011 election in Denmark registered a solitary victory for the left, but in Scandinavia, Finland and elsewhere, the far right seems to have enjoyed a substantial surge.

All these tendencies are discernible to a degree in the French presidential elections, the first round of which takes place on 22nd April, with the second round between the resultant two leading candidates the 6th May.

Nicholas Sarkozy defeated Segolene Royale in 2007, 53%-47%, a comfortable win but scarcely a landslide. Born of a Hungarian aristocrat and a Greek-Jewish- French mother, the diminutive ‘Sarko’ has proved an unusual president, being derided as publicity seeking (he married a former model, Carla Bruni), excessively populist (especially on racial issues) and of questionable judgement (for example on economic policy).  He has nevertheless sought to champion France’s role in the world, leading the NATO action to help topple Gaddafi in Libya. Having won some respect from this action, he has subsequently slipped badly in the polls.

His opponents on 22nd April include the socialist Francois Hollande, plus the far left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon and the far right’s Marine Le Pen. Hollande, who proposes a 75% tax rate for incomes over £1m and 45% on those over £150,000 plus a 20-1 ratio for bosses in relation to average pay, is level pegging with Sarkozy for the first round but once the minor candidates are eliminated he enjoys a 10% lead over the incumbent for the second round. Most betting people would consider it a shoo-in for the left this time, but Sarko is a resourceful and energetic campaigner, assuring Obama in a broadcast conversation: ‘We will win Mr Obama, you and me together’.

The final week of the campaign is likely to see the gloves come off, certainly regarding the far left and far right candidates (Melenchon has called le Pen ‘a filthy beast, spitting hatred’) as well as the main players.

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