Hollande stands firm in French presidential debate

May 4th, 2012

Published on Atlanta Journal-Constitution ajc, by Jamey Keaten/AP, May 2, 2012.

PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy failed to deliver a knockout blow against leftist front-runner Francois Hollande in their only head-to-head debate in France’s presidential campaign, the last major hurdle just four days before Sunday’s election finale.  

Hollande — an understated man whom many expected to wither under Sarkozy’s sharp attacks — stood his ground, surprising some observers and even himself. But Wednesday’s much-awaited TV debate produced no outright winner, and appears unlikely to shake up the campaign.

The debate had shaped up as Sarkozy’s last stand and last chance to draw blood against Hollande, and it quickly turned into a verbal slugfest that broke little new ground on substance but exposed big differences in style … //

… Hollande fired back: “Europe isn’t out of the woods. It is today confronted with a possible resurgence of the crisis with a generalized austerity, and I don’t want that.”

Hollande further criticized tax reforms under Sarkozy seen by leftists as too friendly to the rich. Sarkozy countered, “Saying that we offered gifts to the rich … is slander. It’s a lie.”

At this, Hollande laughed.

Both the Socialists and conservatives have sought ways to lure voters who backed Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front party who won a stunning 18 percent of the first-round vote.

Sarkozy denounced those who compared him to France’s Nazi collaborators because of his tough campaign rhetoric on immigrants.

“Borders are not a bad word,” Sarkozy said about his calls to limit the number of immigrants France takes in.

Hollande, meanwhile, took a similar position to Sarkozy when it came to special treatment for France’s large Muslim community.

He said he would not allow separate menus in public cafeterias or separate hours in swimming pools for men and women to satisfy Muslims’ demands, and also said he would firmly support France’s ban on the face-covering Islamic veils.

Sarkozy took a predator pose from the outset, leaning forward on the desk through much of the debate. Hollande frequently leaned back in his chair, raising his voice less often, and at one point even appeared to yawn.

Sarkozy’s assertive posture, in another setting, could be seen as a good thing for a debate. But one of the things his critics dislike most about him is a personality seen as too aggressive, so it may not work in his favor.

The debate was preceded by the kind of dramatic build-up normally reserved for a heavyweight boxing championship, even though experts say past debates have never swung a French election, regardless of who comes off better in the televised showdown. (full text).


French Elections: Cracks in the Neoliberal Consensus, on ZNet, (Source: Counterpunch), by Diana Johnstone, April 28, 2012;

Sarkozy and Hollande lock horns in TV debate, 3.01 min; on english Al Jazeera /YouTube;

French presidential election, 2012, on en.wikipedia.

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