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Analysis: France Down to the Wire

Council on Foreign Relations

May 3, 2007
Prepared by: Michael Moran

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. What else can one say about Sunday’s vote in France? Every major declared candidate projected the image of an agent of change and defined themselves in opposition not to America, but to outgoing President Jacques Chirac. Yet the choice still comes down to one between the two poles of the French political establishment, Socialist Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy of Chirac’s UMP.

The two candidates, separated by a razor-thin margin according to polling firm Angus Reid, increasingly appear to be converging on policy, too, as they woo centrist voters. Both spent the final two weeks after the raucous first round of the election hoping to win over those who supported centrist candidate Francois Bayrou (IHT) in the first round. They clashed in a televised debate for a final time Wednesday marked by personal animosity but a lack of detail on policy issues (BBC). In a podcast, CFR guest fellow Célia Belin describes the challenges facing Chirac's successor.

By and large, the campaign has turned on domestic issues (France 24): a general disgust at the torpor of the French economy during the last years of Chirac’s tenure, and divisions over the proper place of immigrants—in particular, Muslim immigrants—in French society. France ranks first in the world among developed nations in the amount of its gross domestic product spent on the public sector—some 54 percent. It’s on these issues where differences between Sarkozy and Royal become most pronounced. Sarkozy says he would drastically reduce the size of the French bureaucracy by attrition, a stance Royal’s labor union supporters will not countenance (Bloomberg). Some experts question whether either can reform France’s notoriously protective and combative labor system (NYSun).

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