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France

Growing number of French miss the franc

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-12-07

As President Sarkozy scrambles to convince international markets and rating agencies that the euro is on the path to recovery, the single currency is suffering from a growing lack of confidence among the French.

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy scrambles to avert a credit downgrade of eurozone countries and win back the confidence of international markets, the euro is facing sinking popularity among the French. A new study has revealed that one in three French people would like to restore the franc as the national currency.

“The survey shows a growing distrust of the effectiveness of the euro in overcoming the economic crisis,” said Vincent Dusseaux of the Ipsos Public Affairs polling agency which conducted the study. According to the poll, 36% want to abandon the euro, and 44% thought the euro was a handicap in dealing with Europe’s current credit crisis.

A majority of the French people surveyed - 60% - said they still favoured holding onto the euro, but this overall fading confidence in the single currency is unprecedented, Dusseaux stated. The amount of people who want to leave the euro has increased “by around ten percent in recent months,” Dusseaux told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday.

The survey also found that the desire to dump the euro was stronger among blue-collar workers (65%) than among managers and white-collar workers (12%). Conducted between November 18 and 19, the poll interviewed 941 voting-age individuals.

Dusseaux went on to explain that a small percentage of people have consistently expressed a desire to leave the euro since it was introduced over a decade ago, but that this idea has gained traction since the eurozone crisis began. A similar poll in the Netherlands last month found that a majority of Dutch think the country should have kept the guilder, its old currency.

Far-right gains legitimacy

Observers in France expressed concern that the study could lend credence to the far-right less than five months before presidential elections. Reinstating the franc has been a major party platform of National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen. On Tuesday, her campaign spokesman repeated that it was time to “close the parentheses” on the “failed experiment” of the euro.

ELECTING A FRENCH PRESIDENT

France's president is elected by direct voting for a five-year term.

Presidential elections have historically been organised into two rounds. If no candidate wins more than half of all ballots in the first round, voters must pick between the two top candidates in a run-off.

The first round of the next presidential elections in France will be held in April 22, 2012, with a run-off on May 6 if necessary.

“Until now the [FN] has lacked a certain credibility in the areas of economic and public policy. Le Pen constantly predicts the collapse of Europe’s economy, but she is not capable of explaining the reasons,” said Sylvain Crepon, a professor of Sociology at Paris 10 University and an expert on the far-right in France. “This could lend her a legitimacy she has not been able to establish by any other means.”

Another presidential candidate, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, publicly joined Le Pen’s anti-euro position on Monday. In an opinion piece in the leading French daily Le Monde Dupont-Aignan, a staunchly conservative MP representing Essone near Paris, said the euro was not worth rescuing. While the presidential hopeful has less than one percent support among French voters, his call to quit the euro means Le Pen is no longer isolated on the issue.

Marine Le Pen polled 17% in a December opinion poll published by Ipsos, putting her third in the race behind Socialist Party frontrunner Francois Hollande (32%) and incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy (25.5%).

Confidence in EU strong

After bitter criticism from politicians and economists, Le Pen recently re-evaluated her position on completely quitting the euro. Speaking on a French radio talk-show on November 27, Le Pen insisted she wanted to return to the franc, but also adopt a parallel “common EU currency” to replace the current single currency.

According to leading economists, if the franc returned with an exchange rate lower than the euro, the hypothetical scenario would be dangerous for France’s economy. “France’s bank debts, contracted in euros, would be worth much more,” explained Jennifer McKeown of Capital Economics, a research consultancy in London. Consumer purchasing power in France, which heavily imports goods, would also likely take a hit.

While the euro’s support in France is falling, few analysts think returning to the franc is a possibility. “Politically it is a very difficult position to defend. France has sided very closely with Germany in defending the eurozone,” McKeown added.

Paradoxically, the Ipsos survey on the euro also revealed that a majority of French continue to express confidence in European institutions. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said they favoured extending political and financial powers to the EU, while 39% said they wanted to increase the powers of individual states.

Date created : 2011-12-07

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