President Nicolas Sarkozy, holding his first election campaign rally, accused Socialist candidate Francois Hollande of lying, and pledged to give the French a greater say in decisions affecting their lives with referendums.
“When you tell the English press that you are for free-markets, and then tell the French your enemy is finance, you are lying to the French,” Sarkozy said last night at a rally in the Alpine town of Annecy.
Sarkozy, 57, France’s most unpopular incumbent president, made several digs at Hollande yesterday, without naming him. Hollande in his opening campaign speech Jan. 22 had called finance his “greatest adversary,” comments he toned down during a lunch with English-speaking reporters.
Hollande, in an interview on TF1 television last night responded by accusing Sarkozy of “falsification, caricature and manipulation.” He said he maintained that he didn’t want France to “submit to finance gone crazy.”
The attacks come 66 days before the first round of elections on April 22, with the top two candidates facing off May 6. A poll today showed Hollande’s lead narrowing after Sarkozy’s Feb. 15 announcement that he’s seeking a second term.
Hollande, a lawmaker from central France who has never held a Cabinet post, would defeat Sarkozy by 56 percent to 44 percent in the runoff, according to the BVA survey for RTL Radio and a group of newspapers. That’s down from 57 percent to 43 percent in a Jan. 29 survey.
Sarkozy, whose campaign slogan is “A Strong France,” said Hollande’s plans to cut the retirement age and hire more civil servants are populist efforts to keep unpalatable truths away from the nation’s people and would weaken France.
“The president expects the media impact of his official announcement to allow him to recover in the polls and more effectively attack Hollande, especially in one-on-one debates, where Sarkozy has a clear advantage,” Antonio Barroso, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London, said in a note. “The race is likely to become tighter as the election date approaches.”
Sarkozy has trailed Hollande in every poll, risking becoming the eighth euro-area leader to be ousted since 2010, following those in Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Spain, Slovenia and Slovakia, and being the second French president after Valery Giscard D’Estaing to lose a re-election bid.
In his speech, Sarkozy pledged to respond to the anger of French citizens who feel powerless, saying that he’ll call referendums if needed on job training and illegal immigration.
“There are more and more French from the working and middle classes who increasingly feel they no longer control their lives,” Sarkozy said at a rally attended by 4,000 people at a theater in the outskirts of Annecy. “They feel that everything gets decided without them, that they are at the mercy of speculators from the other side of the world.”
He said last night he’d call popular votes if parliament refuses to pass two laws he’s backing, one that would force all long-term unemployed on state aid to undergo job training, and another that would give a single judge the power to expel illegal immigrants.
Sarkozy announced in a television interview two days ago that he’ll seek a second term, pledging to focus on fighting unemployment, modernizing the country’s economy, and seeing France through Europe’s fiscal crisis.
“The greatest risk would be continuing as if nothing needed to be done, as if we could just continue as before,” he said last night.
Earlier in the day, Sarkozy went from shop to shop in the old town of Annecy to talk to customers and shop owners, before having lunch with a selection of local citizens. He then visited a cheese factory before attending the evening rally.