French president Nicolas Sarkozy launched this reelection bid this week with a promise to strengthen France at a time of economic calamity. He branded his main opponent, the Socialist Party candidate François Hollande, a liar.
Hollande, who said last month that “the world of finance” was his enemy in the upcoming election rather than the incumbent president, told the British newspaper The Guardian that he wouldn’t “aggressively” pursue regulation of the financial industry and wasn’t considered particularly left-wing in France.
“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!” said Sarkozy in the Alpine town of Annecy on Thursday. It was his first campaign event since he announced his intention to run again Wednesday night in a lengthy television interview that was seen by more than ten million people.
Boasting La France Forte (“A strong France”) as his campaign slogan, the conservative president faces an uphill fight to the April 22 election. According to recent opinion polls, he trails his socialist rival by twelve points in a first round of voting. If pitted against Hollande in the May 6 runoff, Sarkozy would lose with 44 percent of the vote.
Both major party candidates have promised to reduce France’s fiscal deficit in order to meet European treaty obligations although Hollande would like more time beyond 2013 to balance the budget. Neither has been particularly forthcoming about the details of fiscal policy.
Sarkozy has vowed to abolish some €13 billion worth of social charges currently paid by employers in favor of an increased value-added tax rate. The measure would come on top of numerous tax hikes that were enacted by a conservative government under his watch last year.
Hollande touts an agenda that increases spending on education and job training programs to combat a nearly 23 percent youth unemployment rate but would also bring back the pension age from 62 to sixty years of age while postponing the sort of entitlement and labor market reforms that are necessary if France is to regain competitiveness relative to neighboring Germany.
Sarkozy made some attempts at deregulating the French economy after he came to power five years ago but in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, he abandoned laissez-faire and complained that nothing had “gone to labor” in the preceding decade when bankers supposedly enriched themselves at the expense of the working man.
In reality, French workers enjoy among the most generous labor provisions in the industrialized world, including a 35 hour work week, a month paid vacation per year on average and ample legal protection. Indeed, it is so difficult to fire a Frenchman that companies are reluctant to hire.
Meanwhile, government spending accounts for more than half of annual economic output and the state controls or owns entire industries including electricity, postal services and railways.