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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-02-10

French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared on television Thursday evening to answer questions from French citizens on a range of subjects, including the hot topics of unemployment and ethics in politics.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will once again reach out to ordinary citizens by answering their questions on TV on Thursday night.

The broadcast, scheduled for 8:30 pm Paris time (GMT+1) on TF1, is his second exercise in consulting with members of the public on live television.

In the wake of two high-profile scandals involving members of his cabinet, a major theme of the broadcast is expected to be ethics in politics, as well as security, spending and unemployment.

In his public question-and-answer session last year, 11 French citizens joined the president informally at several small, bistro-style tables. This time, the president will answer questions put to him by a panel of nine citizens seated around a large round table.

Questions à la carte

The nine people on the panel were profiled in a special TF1 programme that provided a taste of what subjects they are likely to bring up.

One of the panel members is a pharmacist whose home has been repeatedly broken into – a fairly safe bet that she will ask about security issues. This is a subject close to the conservative president’s heart, and a homeland security bill was this week voted into law.

Another panel member is unemployed, as was one of last year’s participants. At his last public session, Sarkozy pledged to reduce unemployment “in the coming weeks”. Unemployment in France, however, went up last year and today more than four million people in the country are unemployed.

Sarkozy launched a national debate this week on providing for the elderly, particularly for those in need of residential care or constant medical attention. A relative of one such elderly person is on the panel.

A factory worker, a student and a farmer will also be asking questions of the president. TF1 has confirmed that questions on education and spending power will also be featured.

Notably, unlike last year, there is not one union member on the panel, despite recent months of strong union activity – particularly several weeks of strikes last year against raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.

Questions on recent news stories

But the French president will not be able to escape questions on scandals concerning two of his top ministers, who have been accused of accepting preferential treatment from embattled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt – underscoring longstanding suspicions of a certain cosiness between senior French politicians and notably autocratic North African regimes.

Prime Minister François Fillon admitted this week to accepting a Christmastime holiday on the Nile from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, while Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has said she accepted a ride on a private jet from a Tunisian tycoon as anti-government protests raged in Tunisia last December.   

“The timing of this story is not great for Sarkozy in this respect,” says Roselyne Fèbvre, FRANCE 24’s French politics specialist.

“Following various political scandals [involving nepotism and illegal cash donations], we now have this story about the ministers and their holidays,” says Stéphane Rozès of the French think tank Conseils, Analyses et Perspectives (Consulting, Analysis and Perspectives).  “The French are rather obsessed by the ethics and morals of their leaders right now.”

Sarkozy may also need to be ready to answer questions about striking magistrates, who accuse the French president of meddling with the legal system and trying to undermine the independence of the legislature.

The political agenda

In the opinion polls, Sarkozy has never had it so bad. According to a TNS Sofres Logica poll published at the beginning of February, only 24% of French people said they had faith in their president.

“In the last few weeks, [Sarkozy] has been out and about, visiting the regions outside of Paris,” Fèbvre says, as part of his mission “to re-conquer the hearts of the French”.

“This broadcast is an important part of that mission because he knows he needs to reconnect with the general public, a population that has and continues to suffer from the economic downturn,” she says.

But Sarkozy may yet be able to evade some of those questions that are genuinely preoccupying the minds of his citizens.

“Sarkozy’s chosen format allows him to jump from one subject to another,” Rozès says. “He has chosen a format that he is good at, but he will fail to answer in-depth questions on the issues that genuinely preoccupy the public.”


Date created : 2011-02-10


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