The Economist and the Times have both recently been critical of French election candidates, essentially because Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy are not saying enough (or perhaps not being realistic) about tackling the deficit. It is argued the French cannot continue to enjoy a high standard of living without austerity measures.
This is how the Economist puts it:
Whoever is elected at France’s two-round presidential election on April 22nd and May 6th will face a choice. If he fails to be tough enough on the deficit, markets will react badly, and France could find itself at the centre of a new euro-zone financing crisis. If he tackles the deficit with tax increases across the board and even spending cuts, voters will not be remotely prepared for it.
“The real risk for the euro zone now is not Greece, but France,” says a top French finance boss. Nicolas Baverez, a commentator who foresaw the country’s looming debt problems in a bestselling book of 2003, agrees: “I’m convinced that France will be the centre of the next shock in the euro zone.”
The candidates, however, are masterfully managing to duck all this. Before the Toulouse shootings intervened, the campaign turned around such pressing matters as halal slaughterhouses, immigration and tax exiles. Although both Nicolas Sarkozy, the Gaullist incumbent, and François Hollande, his Socialist rival, have embraced deficit reduction, each vowing to bring France’s budget deficit down to 3% of GDP next year, neither is promising to do so by making radical spending cuts.
All ten registered candidates have an equal amount of free TV air time until April 20 and “All broadcasters have been required to provide equal air time to all candidates following their official registration on March 19.”. In the polls, five candidates are polling above 10% (and have been around this level or above for a while). Compare this to the 2010 UK election, where no party bar the big three got above 5% of votes.
The candidates are very different politically. Nicolas Sarkozy is generally centre-right, with populist immigration tendencies of which some UK conservatives could only dream. François Hollande, the Socialist candidate, is supposedly seen as a moderate in France; in the UK he would be far redder than Ed. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is further left than Hollande. François Bayrou is a centrist (the only true moderate out of the five) who has warned of the need for deficit reduction. Finally, there is Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front.
Of course it is all but certain that Hollande and Sarkozy will make the second round, and the French will have a two-horse race like in the USA or the UK. However, the other candidates may have a big impact after the election. The Economist’s Elysée blog has pointed out:
The higher Mr Mélenchon’s first-round score, the stronger his hand. For now, the Socialists have signed an electoral deal only with the Greens, who under Eva Joly have dropped off the radar screen at the presidential election (latest polls give her just 1.5%).
Mr Mélenchon’s Left Front could either demand a legislative deal, ahead of parliamentary elections in June, to ensure that it can form a bloc in the next assembly. Or it might ask for policy concessions, and ministerial jobs. Given that Mr Mélenchon’s programme contains such measures as an immediate 20% rise in the minimum wage, a 100% tax rate on earnings over €360,000 and a withdrawal of France from NATO, this could lead to some pretty tense negotiations on the evening of April 22nd.
Elsewhere, Bayrou may become the Prime Minister if Sarkozy wins, according to this article.
The fact there is such a range of candidates seems to have been slightly overlooked in the UK, but it is arguably better for democracy.
*edited to say “French election candidates” instead of “the French election candidates” in first paragraph*