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Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2011-10-28

Speaking on national television Thursday night, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s message to the French people was that his plan offers the way to salvation, while that of the opposition socialists would lead to ruin. France’s media reacts.

Immediately after European leaders finalised a deal to stem the contagion from Greece, French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday delivered a carefully choreographed televised lesson on the debt crisis.

Sarkozy did not use the occasion to confirm his candidacy for next year’s presidential election. 

But he is expected to stand, and much of the French press saw his firm rejection of opposition Socialist policy and justification of his own economic programme as the first broadside of his 2012 election battle.

“Still not a candidate but behaving very much like he is on campaign, Sarkozy said he would confirm his candidature at the end of February, beginning of March,” said left-leaning daily newspaper Le Monde. The election takes place in May, and the Socialist Party has already chosen its candidate - Francois Hollande – who has a ten-point lead on the president.

Thursday night’s 75-minute prime time interview, titled “Face à la Crise” (Confronted by Crisis), came hot on the heels of a deal hammered out by European leaders to cut Greece’s debt mountain by 100 billion euros in an agreement between the eurozone and private banks.

Sarkozy told the nation that he and other European leaders had managed to avert a “global catastrophe” with the deal. “If the euro had exploded last night, all of Europe would have exploded,” he said.

Sarkozy also used the occasion to laud his administration's economic record, despite admitting that the government was lowering its 2012 growth forecast and will need to find some 8 billion euros in new austerity measures next year.

News media around the world led on one comment made by the president - that Greece should not have been allowed to join the euro because it had “entered with false (economic) figures... it was not ready.”

Not so in France, where media reaction was polarised between supporters who saw his message as a timely and wise reminder of the seriousness of the economic situation, and those who interpreted the performance as the PR spin of a man determined to hold on to power ahead of next year’s presidential election.

‘Pugnacity and experience’

Conservative daily Le Figaro on Friday splashed with: “Sarkozy appeals for realism in the face of the crisis.”

“Things had to be said, and it had to come from the top,” wrote the paper’s leader writer Paul-Henri du Limbert, lauding the Brussels summit whose success “owed much to the pugnacity and experience of Nicolas Sarkozy.”

Le Figaro admitted that Thursday’s broadcast was a key political moment for the French president, languishing in the polls behind Socialist rival Francois Hollande by some ten points.

“The choice for Europeans [the president said] is simple and painful: discipline or ruin,” wrote du Lambert. “This is particularly important in France, whose famous ‘social model’ has been appended by successive [Socialist] governments with ever more costly additions, notably the 35-hour week.”

Ouest France, France’s biggest-selling daily paper, was also impressed by Sarkozy’s performance.

The interview was “stage managed but badly needed,” wrote columnist Michel Urvoy. Sarkozy was reining in Hollande’s lead and showing himself to be “a good teacher, a determined man, responsible and reassuring. He reminded us, with humility and focus, that he has a firm hand on the rudder in these stormy times.”

For left-leaning national daily Libération, however, Sarkozy’s performance boiled down to “an exercise in self-congratulation”.

Editor Vincent Giret wrote that the stage-managed pomp and false transparency of the interview hid an “unspoken reality”: that the president, “swathed in the Bonapartist apparel of a universal saviour” is too powerful and unaccountable.

Unlike his German Counterpart Chancellor Angela Merkel, who seeks and gets parliamentary approval before any decision on Europe is made, Sarkozy was lecturing France, rather than consulting.

Decrying the “cavalier” way in which the president imposes his “diktats”, however worthy they may be, the behaviour of the president was a far cry from real democracy, Giret said.

“As Europe goes through this upheaval, none of the candidates in the forthcoming election can escape the question of democratic [accountability].” Giret added. 


Date created : 2011-10-28


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