French president Nicolas Sarkozy has launched this reelection campaign with a promise to strengthen France at a time of economic calamity. He branded his opponent, the Socialist Party’s François Hollande, a liar.
Hollande last month called “the world of finance,” rather than Sarkozy, his enemy.
He appeared to walk back those remarks in an interview with Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, saying he wouldn’t “aggressively” pursue financial regulation.
Sarkozy fired back:
When you tell the English press that you are pro-market and when you come to explain to the French that finance is the enemy, you are lying, you are lying from morning to night!
Boasting “A strong France” as his slogan, the conservative incumbent faces an uphill battle to the April 22 election.
According to recent polls, he trails his rival by 12 percentage points in the first voting round. If pitted against Hollande in the May 6 runoff, Sarkozy could lose with 44 percent support.
Both candidates have promised to reduce France’s deficit in order to meet European treaty obligations, although Hollande would like more time to balance the budget.
Neither has been forthcoming about the details of fiscal policy.
Sarkozy has vowed to abolish some €13 billion worth of social charges that are currently paid by employers in favor of a higher sales tax.
Hollande wants to raise spending on education and job training to reduce youth unemployment, now at 23 percent.
He would also bring back the pension age from 62 to sixty while postponing the sort of entitlement and labor reforms that are necessary if France is to regain its competitiveness relative to neighboring Germany.
Sarkozy made some attempts at deregulating the French economy after he came to power five years ago, but he abandoned laissez-faire in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and complained that nothing had “gone to labor” in the preceding decade.
In fact, French workers enjoy among the most generous labor provisions in the industrialized world, including a 35-hour workweek, one month paid vacation per year and ample legal protection. It is so difficult to fire French workers that companies are reluctant to hire.