Candidates wrangle over job crisis in TV debate

2nd May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - Right winger Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal held tense exchanges over employment and the 35-hour working week in a televised debate Wednesday seen as crucial for the French presidential campaign.

PARIS, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - Right winger Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal held tense exchanges over employment and the 35-hour working week in a televised debate Wednesday seen as crucial for the French presidential campaign.

Seated on either side of a two-metre (six foot) table, disagreements between Sarkozy, who finished first in the opening round, and Royal repeatedly flared into moments of ill-restrained hostility.

Four days before the election, more than half the country's adult population was estimated to be watching the two hour confrontation which was dominated by the economy.

Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Sarkozy repeated his promise to cut the number of public employees -- prompting accusations from Royal that he would endanger health, education and the police.

He said he would ensure full employment in France in five years by "freeing the forces of labour", and said the 35-hour week -- introduced by the last socialist government -- was killing employment. France currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in western Europe.

"She (Royal) still thinks that you have to share out the work like pieces of a cake. Not a single country in the world accepts this logic, which is a monumental mistake," he said.

Royal, wearing a black jacket and white blouse, countered with a promise to create 500,000 youth jobs, funded from existing training and unemployment budgets. She questioned Sarkozy's citation of an economic think-tank that said his programme would benefit the economy more than Royal's.

This prompted Sarkozy to ask: "Why do you treat anyone who is not of your opinion with irony, even with contempt?".

On several occasions, to Sarkozy's proposals, Royal retorted with the remark: "What a pity you didn't do that during your five years in government".

Televised debates have been held between the finalists in every French election since 1974 -- except in 2002 when Jacques Chirac refused to meet far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Both the Sarkozy and Royal camps know that their encounter could be crucial in determining the choice of millions of uncommitted voters.

Nearly seven million people chose defeated centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round on April 22, and the second-round campaign has focussed on capturing his electorate.

The debate was watched in screens in cafes and bars across the country -- though there was competition from an important European cup football match.

"Everything she says touches me, it's all true," said David Zeymour, a 43-year-old grocer at a bar in central Paris. "I voted Sarkozy in the first round, but now frankly I've changed my mind. I'm 100-percent behind Segolene. Sarkozy is scary."

"He's staying cool. She's more aggressive, she's trying to block him, but lucky for him he's giving good answers," said Jean-Philippe Girbal, the 35-year-old cafe owner.

The pair have faced each other only once before in a debate. Just before the 1993 legislative elections they had an ill-tempered exchange in a television studio, a clip of which has been circulating on the Internet.

Campaigning for the second round ends on Friday at midnight. On Thursday the two candidates hold their last rallies, Royal in the northern city of Lille and Sarkozy in Montpellier in the south.

The latest opinion poll released by IPSOS on Tuesday gave Sarkozy 53.5 percent of the vote against 46.5 percent for Royal. A total of 87 percent said they had made up their mind.

In the first round, Sarkozy got 31.2 percent of the vote and Royal 25.9 percent. Le Pen got 10.4 percent.

On Tuesday Le Pen urged his 3.8 million voters not to vote for Sarkozy or Royal. Bayrou has not issued an endorsement for either candidate.

Giscard d'Estaing, who took part in two televised debates with Mitterrand in 1974 and 1981, said the head-to-head between Sarkozy and Royal would be the "decisive ... high-point of the campaign".

In the 1974 debate Giscard d'Estaing coined the phrase "You do not have a monopoly on the heart", which was seen as giving him the edge. He went on to win by a very small majority.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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