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NEWS DISPATCHES > French Presidential Debate

3 May 2007

The two candidates squared up in what was sometimes a tense debate. Most of the debate was centered on domestic issues (about 120 minutes out of the over 146 minutes of the entire debate). The socialist candidate S. Royal that currently trails in opinion polls behind his right wing opponent N. Sarkozy was expected to use this debate as her last chance to try and turn the tables before France goes to the polls on Sunday.

The TV debate (expected to attract more than 20 million viewers in France) also equally attracted the attention of many viewers outside the country. Two moderators, one male and one female from the public and private television Networks each coordinated the debate with minimum intervention on their part.


At the beginning S Royal appeared less tense while Sarkozy displayed more seriousness in his looks. Royal promised to “pull France out of poverty, reduce public debt, increase purchasing power, and reduce aggression and violence” She promised not to reduce staff strength of the public service but rather to reorganize it and increase efficiency. Promising to “fight against the squandering of public funds”, Royal said political leaders must be accountable. Sarkozy on his part was favorable to trimming the public service blaming the 25 years of budget deficit on the fact that civil servants’ salaries gulp about 45% of the budget. “I want results. Only competence should count”. He said. Sarkozy quoted as example that the customs personnel in France is increasing at the time that European borders were disappearing.


S. Royal and Sarkozy differed on the issue of the working hours, taxes and employment. S. Royale said her future government will maintain the 35 working hours per week, assist small scale enterprises and form “social partnership” between Enterprises and the community to encourage discourse and formulate policies. “Small Scale Enterprises that re-inject their profits into expanding their companies will have their taxes reduced by 50%” She said. Sarkozy promised to liberalize the working week hours. He castigated Royal on her 35 hour working week claiming that it is counterproductive. “Will you generalize the 35 hours work week to all including the Small scale enterprises? Sarkozy asked Royal. “You give the impression that you do not understand”. Answered Royal.


Royal frequently accused Sarkozy of failing to implement the programs that he is now propounding during his more than four years as interior minister. “I want to kick start growth”. The real battle is the “knowledge economy”. “I want to ‘debureaucratize’ the state”. She said. Sarkozy insisted that his government will reduce public spending and tax importation to finance social services. Both candidates had a convergence of ideas on some form of ‘ecological tax relief’ to encourage clean energy.


Sour Exchanges

The debate that was running smoothly soon turned sour when Sarkozy made a comment on handicap children. “ I find it difficult to understand why most handicap children do not attend normal schools”. Sarkozy said in apparent reference to his belief that the handicap and normal children should be mixed in the same class. S. Royale shot back angrily claiming that it was the government in which Sarkozy served that actually sabotaged that policy in many schools by suppressing jobs of handicap caregivers. Implying that Sarkozy was shedding crocodile tears, Royal accused Sarkozy of  “immoral political discourse”. Adding; “I am angry in the face of injustice. I am angry in the face of lies”. When Sarkozy told her to calm down, she said; “No I am not going to calm down”. Sarkozy then told her that; “I do not think that is the way to uplift the dignity of the debate. That is not the way to respect an opponent. When words that hurt are used they divide the people.” Royal replied that; “It is necessary that political discourse should correspond to deeds”.


On foreign policy, Sarkozy said he was opposed to the expansion of the EU when her institutions have not been strengthened. He was categorical that he can never support the admission of Turkey into the EU claiming that Turkey belongs to Asia Minor and not Europe. Royal was more supportive of Turkey joining the EU though her commitment was not as vigorous as Sarkozy’s rejection. Both lamented about the situation in Darfur with Royal talking of threatening China (Sudan’s commercial ally) with the boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The issue of immigration was mentioned briefly with Sarkozy maintaining his tough stance. “France cannot welcome all the world’s misery”. He said. Royal thought that the best way to reduce immigration is to reduce fraud and corruption by African regimes and increase aid to poor countries.


The debate closed almost thirty minutes longer than the two hours initially allocated. It is too early to determine if this face to face will influence the current opinion polls that show Sarkozy leading.


Njei Moses Timah