Sarkozy moves to woo France's young voters
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy turned his attention to France's young voters in his latest campaign speech on Saturday. Speaking in front of 7,000 loyal followers, Sarkozy announced a series of measures aimed at tackling youth unemployment.
President Nicolas Sarkozy put France’s young voters firmly in his sights on Saturday as his campaign for re-election enters a crucial period.
With just three weeks to go before France heads to the polls in the first round of the presidential election, Sarkozy has homed in on winning over the country’s young voters in a speech in Paris.
Speaking in front of around 7,000 sympathisers of his UMP party, Sarkozy announced several measures aimed at wooing France’s youth, including the creation of a “youth bank” which would provide loans to young entrepreneurs.
“I want society to support those young people who want to work, who want to study and build their place in society and take control of their adult life,” Sarkozy told the Tricolour-waving crowd.
“We will create a youth bank that will provide loans for those who want to start a small business and who don’t have a family who can support them,” he said.
“Helping young people to be free, responsible and helping them to realise their dreams, that for me is a policy for young people,” Sarkozy added.
Sarkozy also announced plans to double the number of participants in France's ‘civilian service’ scheme – a voluntary national service programme for young people.
In another move aimed at dealing with the issue of youth unemployment, the president vowed to force businesses with over 250 employees to create a number of apprenticeship positions equivalent to five percent of the workforce.
Saturday’s gathering marked Sarkozy’s return to economic issues after Mohamed Merah’s killing spree in Toulouse and Montauban pushed policing and counter-terrorism to the top of his agenda.
Sarkozy, who has revealed his presidential programme in stages, had largely ignored young people during his election campaign up until Saturday’s rally – unlike his chief rival for the Elysée Palace, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who has vowed to put the youth of France at the heart of his mandate.
“It is for the youth of this country that I want to become the president of France. I will make education a real national priority,” Hollande said when he launched his campaign with a 60-point manifesto in January.
Hollande has vowed to create 60,000 new jobs in education to help reduce the number of youth leaving school without qualifications. He also plans to cut charges for employers who hire young people.
‘The more ambitious candidate’
With youth unemployment in France having risen to 22.4 percent at the end of 2011, Sarkozy will have his work cut out to convince young voters to put their trust in him for another five years.
But the young sympathisers of the ruling UMP party are clearly behind him. The crowd, many of whom wore T- shirts bearing the slogan ‘Sarkozy students’, gave him a rapturous reception on Saturday.
“We will win”, they shouted over and over again.
Many who turned up to show their support for Sarkozy believe the incumbent president is not to blame for the high unemployment among young people.
“It is not Sarkozy’s fault, it has more to do with the financial crisis and compared to other countries in Europe, France is not that bad,” Berangere Haquen, a 22-year-old student, told FRANCE 24.
“I think Sarkozy wanted to tackle the crisis first and then tackle the problem of jobs for young people in his next mandate. With the crisis it has been very difficult to implement reform and France generally does not accept radical reform easily,” she added.
Also among Sarkozy’s young supporters was 22-year-old UMP supporter Samuel Laufer, who made the trip from London to Paris to attend the rally.
“Sarkozy’s job for the last five years was to protect France from the consequences of the financial crisis and the economic downturn. I think he achieved that. He has done as much as he could,” Laufer told FRANCE 24.
“Sarkozy is the more ambitious candidate and that appeals to young people. They are at the beginning of their lives and want to aim high and it is with Sarkozy that we can do that,” he added.
Back in February, Sarkozy lagged seven points behind Hollande in opinion polls. But in recent weeks he has clawed back the advantage and is now expected to gain more votes in the first-round ballot.
However polls show Hollande is still predicted to triumph in the crucial second-round of voting on May 6.
“Sarkozy’s campaign team billed the speech as the beginning of a new chapter and it did feel a bit like that. He had a lot to say about hope and the future of young people,” said FRANCE 24’s Elena Casas reporting from the rally.
But, she added, “In the last election, 63 per cent of young people voted for the Socialist Party candidate, so it remains to be seen whether today’s speech will give them reason to vote for Sarkozy this time round.”