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France debate: verbal fusion and political divide

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sarkozy, [left] hollandeby Andrew Simmons

One analyst of Wednesday’s televised French presidential debate described President Nicholas Sarkozy as the boxer and Hollande as the judo fighter.

For French people, aching to see a little more substance in this campaign, it was more of a Punch-and-Judy show.

There was no knock out. And really it would have been far-fetched to even contemplate.

What France did see was a close up on the 2O-camera set of this one-off debate, was an intense portrait of how different the French presidency could become within a matter of days.

The men sat 2.5 metres apart, a distance agreed upon, like the camera angles, by political negotiation. But in thought, style and policy the distance between them was immeasurable.

From the start, insults were traded.  Hollande, “ Mr Normal” as he has been projecting himself effectively, was first to speak. 

One analyst of Wednesday’s televised French presidential debate described President Nicholas Sarkozy as the boxer and Hollande as the judo fighter.

For French people, aching to see a little more substance in this campaign, it was more of a Punch-and-Judy show.

There was no knock out. And really it would have been far-fetched to even contemplate.

What France did see was a close up on the 2O-camera set of this one-off debate, was an intense portrait of how different the French presidency could become within a matter of days.

The men sat 2.5 metres apart, a distance agreed upon, like the camera angles, by political negotiation. But in thought, style and policy the distance between them was immeasurable.

From the start, insults were traded.  Hollande, “ Mr Normal” as he has been projecting himself effectively, was first to speak. 

"The privileged in France have been too protected", he said, adding that under his presidency there "would be financial justice, social justice and territorial justice".

He accused Sarkozy of dividing France and mishandling the economy, and the eurozone financial crisis.

Sarkozy, in turn, started gently: " This is an historic choice. We are not in one crisis, we are in multiple crises."

He said he couldn't be blamed for what had happened.

Hollande was not letting him go on this. "Never has our trade deficit been so imbalanced – never," he asserted.

Sarkozy upped the tempo with more interruptions. The men's jibes and interruptions overlapped  in a sometimes annoying verbal fusion.
 
“The job of president isn't a normal job and the situation we're in isn't normal,'' Sarkozy snapped at one point.

The President  was unleashing  one of his main themes:  “Your normalcy isn't up to the stakes.''

Sarkozy, with his bling, flamboyant image, could be wrong there. It is partly because of  Hollande's apparent normality  that  he's been able to gain so much popularity.

Sarkozy kept up the attacks and Hollande stood up to them in a  fairly calm manner.

"With you, it's very simple: it's never your fault," Hollande said.

Sarkozy repeatedly accused  Hollande of lying about economic figures. He reeled off a long list of statistics in an attempt to bamboozle his opponent.

"Mr Hollande. When you lie so shamelessly, do I have to accept it?" he asked.

Most of the larger part of three hours of prime airtime was spent on the ailing French economy, rampant unemployment, immigration and nuclear power. Europe was also a main issue.
 
"The example I want to follow is Germany, and not Spain or Greece,"  Sarkozy declared.  

And there, in one sentence, is the policy that will change if Hollande wins.

He wants to see more growth, not austerity and a renegotiation of the EU fiscal pact.

In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sees nothing “normal” about Monsieur Hollande.

But this understated socialist who could be on the threshold of one of the most powerful positions in the world is not fazed by warnings of market chaos or a rift with Germany.

Hollande is comfortable with the polls putting him 6 to 10 points ahead.  He believes he has the political substance, and that the mantle of statesman will come later.

It appears French voters are ready for the first socialist president in a generation.


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