Présidentielle 2012

57 more days to go to the first round of the elections, and the ‘Présidentielle’ is delivering formidable testament to the good quality of political debate in France (and entratainment value).

Older French people I know tend to disagree about the quality of political discourse. They say that there was an era when l’homme politique – the politician – or rather, statesmen where of a much more dignified calibre (very few states women existed then, whereas today Christine Lagarde is perhaps one of the most impressive French figures in the global political economy).

Be that as it may, it is something of a global trend, this decline in impressive political figures of the stature of De Gaulle, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and so forth.

Reading though the policy positions of the different candidates, one has to comment that it is not as desperate situation as some would say. Granted, none of the candidates have the skill and character of the grandes hommes that have shaped the country’s politucs at critical points in history, but they articulate interesting policy positions, in the most part.

One might not agree that all of the positions are necessarily constructive or intelligent but there is enough substance to make the predsidential race not just entertaining but a fascinating dialogue of competing visions of the solutions to some of the problems that countries beyon France are facing.

Sarkozy and Hollande dominated most of the debate to the apparent dismay of candidates like Francois Bayrou who were vocal about the disporportionate coverage. What is increasingly clear from the tone of different candidatess is that they are beginning to become more incisive in articulating their respective programmmes and going for the kill. Mud slinging continues as a matter if course, but the stakes seem to be getting higher so there was a tangible shift in gears. Things are getting a bit serious. I’m definitely enjoying this!

Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy played to his base and spent part of the week talking about agricultural policy reform and the revision of regulations that control French produce. He also articulated his intention to improve the competitiveness of French agriculture partly by creating a more efficient supply chain from farms to commercial distributors. This is not surprising – i.e. that he chose to pay a vist to the countryside.
In 2007, over 70% of the agricultural industry voted for him, according to Le Monde.

He also made interesting TV appearances promoting his argument for leadership continuity in the economic recovery that he has been working toward with Angela Merkel as part of the ‘Franco-German couple’. In between the busy schedule he also found a bit of time to slip in sharp tongued insults to Francois Hollande who he said had a lot of faults to be forgiven for, in terms of some his assumptions about the French economy.

In any case, Sarkozy’s starategy seems to be serving him well. The most recent figures from IFOP, a leading statistical agency predict that if the French were to vote today, Sarkozy would follow closely behind Hollande by a mere one percent in the first round. This stands in contrast to previous weeks were the differential hit a high of 6 percentage point difference in early February. IFOP, in concurrence with the other agencies predicts that in a second round, Hollande would win by a margin of about 10-12 percent.

Francois Bayrou

Bayrou has maintained a measured tone and stuck to the issues. “It’s a pity that he doesn’t have a chance”, one of my fellow university mates observed. The polls place him as the fourth candidate, after Marine Le Pen and the two leading men. None of the polls expect him to survive to the second round.

He might not be a leader at the polls but he continued to put his best foot forward and presented thoughtful policy positions on issues including pension reform. A more yielding and sensitive approach to pensions that takes into account individual cases and cicumstances would be what he would work toward as President. He also tried to turn attention to youth unemployment and even took the Line 13 to visit some of the grittier banlieu where he spoke about an education system that is failing primary school level pupils and the need to become more creative in providing employment. He also tried to draw attention to what he thinks is an unacceptable disrespect of the media by the current President. He’s not the first person I’ve heard say this. One only needs to see the President in action exchanging figurative blows with reporters who ask inane questions, those that catch him on a bad day or those that catch him after visibly extensive sleep depravation.

Some analysis seems to suggest that Bayrou’s presence in the race only serves to fragment an already very heterogenous left field. Yes, in 2007 he might have had a lot of support – but Le Monde earlier this week suggested that this was really because the socialist candidate, Ségolene Royale was not well perceived by everyone.

He is a bit like the good student in class that has the methodology in place and the right theoretical framework but no one seems to be really paying attention at the moment.

Here he is taking Ligne 13 and popping into the banlieu, talking about education, employment and social inclusion , looking into the eyes of marginalised youth and even putting his arms on their shoulders. One hopes that it might somehow serve him well at some point…

Francois Hollande

Francois Hollande struck a feminist note promising to make sure 50% of posts in his goverment would be filled by women. His party is already putting their words into action, fielding half of their legislative candidates as women. He spoke about how he would introduce sanctions for large companies that do not respect legal requirements for equal pay between men and women. In between, he also managed to slot in a slight attack on Sarkozy’s UMP’s preference to pay fines for failing to comply with gender quotas for their political campaign candidates.

He talked about an issue that is very dear to this blogger’s heart – the need to make sure that economic globalisation does not completely take over local industries. He visited factories and spoke about local economic development, about creating a bank for public investment that would help local factories to remain open, offering incentives to companies that invest locally and about working at European Union level to stimulate innovation in green technologies. Quite an interesting platform!

The German contingent, the swearing Green party leader and the mock candidate

I caught a glimpse of a TV debate on whether the support of Angela Merkel for the candidacy of Sarkozy is an asset or not – opinion seemed to be divided among views including those that said it was justified, those that found it desperate and some who found the idea of German rigour and discipline as a not very French. Some even suggested it will cost Sarkozy the presidency , and in the event that it did – Chancellor Merkel will have very awkward days ahead, dealing with a president that her aides have been attacking.

Then there was the moment when Eva Joly sent a few swear words to one of her fellow greens on tlevision. It was quite sad to see.

And on the blog of Rue 89, the candidacy of Frédéric Bastiat was thrown into the mix. It would be an interesting candidacy if Bastiat was not deceased. He died 160 years ago. But, I guess this ‘mock candidacy’ is based on the idea that what this famous French economist represented would have made a huge difference to this election. Apart from being the economist who invented the term ‘opportuniy cost’, which we all love and know – he also spoke about the obese state as an ailment that hobbles meaningful economic development. If he were alive, Rue 89 contends, then perhaps he would be a welcome candidate who would speak about how many of the problems and economic crises that France is struggling with can be traced back to increasing greed and gluttony. In their view, none of the candidates are speaking directly to the ‘obesity of the state’ and that what is needed is a reform of the fundamentals of how the state operates.i’m not too sure about this reading but it is an intersting one nonetheless.