French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Francois Hollande clashed in their only campaign debate over everything from how to emulate German employment gains and euro bonds to the role of the European Central Bank.
In heated exchanges, marked by the candidates calling each other a liar, Sarkozy and Hollande elaborated on differences over how to rekindle growth with joblessness in France at the highest level in 12 years. Germany’s unemployment rate is 6.8 percent, against 9.8 percent in France.
“Unemployment has increased,” Hollande said to Sarkozy. “In Germany they make room for social partners, unlike in France.” For his part, Sarkozy said, “after criticizing Germany, it suddenly inspires you.” He said Germany raised sales taxes to help finance lower social charges and unions backed a balanced budget rule that Hollande opposes.
The war of words between the two candidates came as Sarkozy fought for his last chance to turn the tide against Hollande before the May 6 runoff. The challenger led with 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent, according to a survey of voting intentions published by BVA today. There was no margin of error published.
The two candidates sat 2 1/2 meters apart in their first face-to-face confrontation of the campaign. The event was broadcast on eight television channels and six radio stations.
Hollande said Europe needs growth to avoid a return of the region’s crisis.
Europe faces a “possible resurgence of the crisis due to a lack of growth,” Hollande said.
France has no alternative to cutting its debt and deficit, Sarkozy said. “Growth, yes, but not at the expense of cutting debt and deficit,” Sarkozy said.
While Hollande advocated the issue of euro bonds guaranteed by the 17 countries using the common currency, to raise funding for debt-strapped countries, Sarkozy reiterated his opposition to such securities. Germany is opposed to euro bonds.
“Who will guarantee them if it’s not France and Germany?” he said. “Should we raise our debt to pay the debts of others? It’s irresponsible.”
Sarkozy said the ECB has done “pretty well” in fighting the region’s sovereign debt crisis given the constraints of its mandate.
“I think the ECB has done pretty well,” Sarkozy said. “This is a global crisis. You think it was easy? I’m not sure you’d have done much better than us. Europe has got out of the crisis.”
Hollande’s platform includes the hiring of 60,000 school teachers and imposing a 75 percent tax on incomes of 1 million euros ($1.3 million) a year.
He also wants to split banks’ retail and investment businesses, renegotiate the European Union’s fiscal accord to add growth measures and withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.
Sarkozy wants to create levies for tax exiles and large French companies, introduce a “Buy European Act,” revise the Schenghen accord to cap illegal immigration and reduce the number of legal immigrants by half.
He will also require long- term unemployed to seek job training, threatening to cut their benefits if they refuse jobs in their new field.
Both plan to balance the government budget, Sarkozy by 2016 and Hollande by 2017.
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