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French presidential debate Royal - Sarkozy on May 2, 2007
Article added on May 3, 2007
The French Presidential election campaign has witnessed its last defining moment: the debate between Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy on May 2, 2007. Before the TV lights turned on, the Socialist was widely regarded the weaker debater. If she could end the two hours of debate more or less on the same level with her center-right opponent from the ruling UMP party, she would be able to reopen the election, which until today gives Sarkozy a 52:48 win.

The questions of the TV debate were asked by Arlette Chabot and Patrick Poivre d'Arvor. It began as scheduled around 21.00 Paris time and was supposed to take some two hours with questions around seven pre-defined themes. It ended however only at 23.40. The impact of the debate will only be known on election day, next Sunday, May 6, 2007.

The debate Royal - Sarkozy of May 2, 2007

In the first exchanges, Nicolas Sarkozy was more convincing and more Presidential than his rival. He stated that after the Right-wing candidate Le Pen had reached the second tour in the Presidential race of 2002 and after France had refused the European Constitution in a referendum, something had to change. A politician can no longer proclaim things. The French expect result.

As promised during the campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy stated that, after each year, all his ministers will have to render an account to the French people for their actions. He engaged himself to limit the number of successive mandates to two. His entrance was brilliant and clear.

Ségolène Royal chose not a Presidential entry, but to attack her rival. She drew a gloomy balance of the current governments achievements: debt, number of poor workers, pension problems, deficit of the social security, unemployment rate. Surprisingly, she attacked Sarkozy directly on crime and violence, the former Interior Minister's competence. She could have marked a lot of points, but she chose the wrong point of attack.

Sarkozy admitted blunders, failed policies of both the Right and the Left. However, knowing the statistics, he defended himself well on crime and violence. He stated that under the last Socialist government (of Lionel Jospin), crimes had increased by 18%. Under Chirac's second mandate from 2002 to 2007, a time during which Sarkozy largely served as Interior Minister, the number could be lowered by 10%. Although not everything was fine now, he said that he had a balance he could show to the French, given the fact that he had taken over a terrible situation from his Socialist predecessor. He added that it was not by accident that, in the Presidential election of 2002, the Socialist candidate (Jospin) did not make it into the second round.

In order to illustrate the terrible situation, Ségolène Royal chose the example of a French police officer raped at night near her Parisian commissariat. She came up with a very Socialist solution: she would make sure that all public servants (agents publics) working late will be accompanied home. She excluded categorically to lower the number of public servants, as suggested by Sarkozy, who said, that in order to reduce the deficit, he would replace only one in two retiring public servants.

Royal seemed still donnish, not at ease and her language was harsh. She insisted on the efficiency of French public servants, an asset for France because many Foreign companies chose to settle in France because of the quality of its public service. She promised however to fight all kinds of wastage of public money. She attacked Sarkozy for a bad definition of responsibilities in France's decentralization.

Sarkozy rightly pointed out that one cannot accompany home all female public servants working late. Instead, he proposed to severely punish recidivists, who account for the vast majority of crimes. He mentioned detailed measures to take
towards sex offenders. Sarkozy was a clear winner in the early part of the debate.

Sarkozy later attacked Royal regarding the (in-) famous 35 heures, laws limiting the weekly working hours to 35. He said that no country has managed to reduce unemployment by limiting the number of working hours. Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Spain have achieved growth and full employment. Their example was to follow. Sarkozy mentioned the Socialist Prime Minister of Spain Zapatero: “Mister Zapatero told me, 'never I will introduce the 35 hours'.”

Sarkozy accused Royal of trying to increase the number of state employees, without having a clue of how to finance it. Royal replied that she never intended to increase their number, but to redeploy them. More nurses instead of more customs officers. Sarkozy replied: “You cannot do that”.

Ségolène Royal continued to fix fancy goals without telling how to finance and how to achieve them. She “proposed” to create 500,000 “stepping stone jobs” (emplois tremplins). Her “goal” is to have no young person unemployed for more than six months. Sarkozy rightly accused her of remaining in a Socialist logic of dividing working hours. No country has been successful following this logic.

When Nicolas Sarkozy mentioned the organization Rexecode, Ségolène Royal immediately said that this was the employers' organization, an insinuation that, therefore, their comments had no value. Sarkozy reminded her that the President of Rececode was Michel Didier and that he had been appointed by the Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Regarding a longer exchange regarding the “35 hours”, let's just retain that Royal admitted that the second law on the 35 hours was too rigid, and she added: “You can see that I am able to see the things the way they are”.

Sarkozy rightly accused Royal of “surfing” from one theme to another, without explaining things in details. The question is whether the majority of French viewers realized that.

Royal continued in her style and said that she wanted to raise the minimum wage (Smic), to organize a conference on salaries, to create enterprises. How? Sarkozy remarked that she had “a remarkable capacity of not responding to questions”.

When Sarkozy repeated what he had said after the first round, that he intended to offer the Presidency of the Parliament's Commission of Finance to a member of the opposition, Royal said that Sarkozy had a problem of credibility, that he was not credible on matter of the “impartial state”.

In a discussion about taxes, Royal gave the example of a rich heiress who, thanks to the lawas of the majority, got a check of seven million euros. She said that this was “inequitable”. Sarkozy made a blunder by responding: “What I propose is worse”. Royal remarked: “It is worse, your are right. With you, everything is possible, even the worst”. Sarkozy risked to lose his calm.

Royal, the former Minister of the Environment, corrected Sarkozy when he stated that nuclear energy was a clean energy which contributed to 50% to France's electricity. She said that the number was 17%. In reality, France's nuclear plants produce 78% of the countries electricity. Royal probably thought about the percentage of nuclear energy in the overall energy consumption of France.

Reacting to comments in which Sarkozy called for handicapped children to be guaranteed a place in school, Royal said that Sarkozy had “reached a pinnacle of political immorality”. She accused the Government of the Right of dismantling Socialist educations measures on handicapped children. She conclude: Royal accused Sarkozy of “Not everything is possible in politics”. Luckily for Sarkozy, she overdid it. He remained calm and told her that a President should remain calm, that she lost her temper very easily (something he normally gets accused of).

According to Le Figaro, Sarkozy could have replied that there is an existing law regarding handicapped school children, voted in February 2005. In early 2005, the parents of handicapped children were unhappy with the situation, but by the beginning of the school year 2006, as many as 160,000 handicapped children could be integrated into ordinary school classes.

On Foreign policy, Sarkozy and Royal disagreed over Turkey's entry into the European Union. Sarkozy was clearly opposed to the idea because “Turkey is not Europe”, and the people who want Turkey to enter to EU in fact want the end of the EU. Royal was more open and said that she just wanted “a pause” in the process. But since the negotiations had already begun, it could not be stopped now.

At the end, Royal accused Sarkozy of his harsh anti-immigration measures: “Arresting a grand-parent in front of a school in front of his grand-child is unacceptable in the French Republic”. She nailed him with the words,  “I would do things in a human way”.

After a weak beginning, Royal managed to come back into the debate. On economic issues, dear to the voters of François Bayrou, the candidate who finished third, she was weak. Bayrou scored 18.6% in the first round. His voters may decide the election. Therefore it was maybe not wise for Royal to be
rather a divider than a uniter, because many of Bayrou's voters want the creation of a new political center which will end the political Left-Right divide in France. On May 6, 2007 the French voters will have their final word on France's next President.

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