2007-04-13 Nick Champeaux
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As the race to become the next French President hots up, which of the candidates can address the burning issues?

An employee places official campaign leaflets and other official electoral material into an envelope, at an election dispatching center set up by the local prefectureAn employee places official campaign leaflets and other official electoral material into an envelope, at an election dispatching center set up by the local prefecture
- "The cost of life is very expensive, everything, bread, cars but wages are not so high. "So who can solve the problem? I don't know, I really don't know ..."

- "We have several cases of factories who close so I hope the new President will care for the regions ..."

- "Everybody come to the Ardennes, Sarkozy, Royal, Bayrou. Promises, only promises ..."

Indeed all the main candidates have made the trip to Charleville Mézière. It is the birthplace of poet Arthur Rimbaud, but over the past year it has become the symbol of white washed windows and high unemployment. Florence Turquier is a former employee of Thomé Génot, a company which used to manufacture car parts. The factory closed down last autumn, leaving three hundred workers out of a job.

Center-right presidential candidate Francois Bayrou waves to supportersCenter-right presidential candidate Francois Bayrou waves to supporters
"They were very angry because of the conditions in which the factory was closed. The factory had been bought about 2 years before by a financial group from the United States. And instead of investing, they just drain all the money back to the US and then deliberately closed the factory."
– "What effect do you think this will have on the way they'll vote?"
– "There might be some protest votes"

Even people who have jobs are disgruntled. Last February a thirty one year old father of two took his life, he sued to work at the Charleville Peugeot foundry. One of his colleagues, trade unionist François Cauzeaux, blames the plant's management and the free market ideology.

"A couple of weeks before Frederic took his life he told his colleagues he couldn't bear it any more. The way the company works is completey determined by hard-line free market ideologists. So at a political level, the people who have always defended workers in the car industry are the far-left anti-market candidates."

Employees of American company ClearChannel stick posters of French presidential candidatesEmployees of American company ClearChannel stick posters of French presidential candidates
Ever since the referendum on the Maastricht treaty in 1992, workers in France have been casting protest balllots, voting for the far left, staying at home on election day, or turning to the other end of the political spectrum: Jean Marie Le Pen's National Front. Roland, a sixty one year National Front card carrier, is sliding Le Pen leaflets in people's mailboxes in the small town of Renwez. He is trying to persuade Julia, the town's florist, spelling out the classic anti-immigration national front rethoric.

"The ones who annoy me are the ones who arrive and expect everything to be handed to them for free without having to do any work. To top it all, they don't even respect our laws. There are 186,000 illegal immigrants in France, we give them free accomodation, free breakfasts, free dentists, free doctors free everything. No wonder there's no money left in the coffers"

Jean Marie Le pen is in favour of what he calls national preference: in other words jobs, housing and social protection for French people first. He took everyone by surprise when he kicked socialist Lionel Jospin out of the race five years ago. The fragmentation of the votes on the left is partly why Jospin didn't make it. Socialists do not want to go through the experience again. So they're are calling on people who normally vote for the far left to cast a useful ballot for Ségolène, to make sure that the left is represented in the second round. Jean Paul Ledoc is a teacher and member of the local socialist party bureau.

A woman places ballot papers and other official electoral material into envelopes at an election dispatching centerA woman places ballot papers and other official electoral material into envelopes at an election dispatching center
"Things have changed, people know the risk now. They don't want that to happen again. It was a traumatic experience for people to vote for Jacques Chirac in order to block Le Pen. Still now, I can't believe I voted for Jacques Chirac. This time there is a woman who could become President of this country."

Royal wants companies who decide to relocate their activity abroad, to pay back the subsidies that they have received from the state, she has also promised to increase the minimum wage if elected. Meanwhile Sarkozy intends to revamp the 35 hour working week, quite thoroughly actually. He wants to allow people to work more and earn more.

His balance sheet as hardline interior minister has also impressed workers in the Ardennes. Henri Haurelou is retired, he will vote for Sarkozy.

"I am going to vote for Sarkozy because I believe he has the skills to run the country. We need someone who is firm and determined. Not a dictator but close to a dictator."

Nicolas Sarkozy is fishing for votes among Le Pen supporters.....hence his hard stance on immigration.....actually this has been the campaign's paradox.....

Unemployment and purchasing power are the top two concerns of French people, yet the campaign has centered around security and immigration issues.

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Tags

elections, france, francois bayrou, jean-marie le pen, nicolas sarkozy, public opinion, segolene royale

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