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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 20:07 GMT
Jospin joins race to be president
Lionel Jospin
France has been waiting for Jospin to declare his candidacy
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has announced he will stand as a candidate in this year's French presidential elections, ending months of speculation.


The country should be presided over in a different way - we need an active president who sets out the grand lines and works to make them a reality with the government

Lionel Jospin
The 64-year-old socialist leader will fight the incumbent conservative President Jacques Chirac, who announced earlier this month that he would be standing for re-election.

"I want to restore the spirit of responsibility which is the foundation of authority," said Mr Jospin as he announced his decision to run. "The country should be presided over in a different way."

The two politicians are currently standing neck-and-neck in the opinion polls.

The first round of the presidential election will be held on 21 April, with the second and final round on 5 May.

Rival worries

Mr Jospin had been widely expected to put forward his candidacy, but it was thought likely that he would wait to announce it until the present parliament concluded its business this week.

He lost to Mr Chirac in the last presidential election in 1995, but led the Socialist Party to victory in parliamentary elections in 1997.

The two have "co-habited" since, with Mr Jospin heading a Government often at odds with Mr Chirac's vision for France.

Alluding to the benefits of electing leaders of the same political colours, Mr Jospin said: "We need an active president, who sets out the grand lines and works to make them a reality with the government".

Lionel Jospin (back), Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac beat Mr Jospin last time, but now they stand neck-and-neck
Analysts say sleaze allegations which have dogged Mr Chirac and his Rally for the Republic party (RPR) in the pre-election run-up could have consequences for the presidential vote.

The return to France of fugitive politician Didier Schuller, who promises revelations about illicit funding schemes carried out by the RPR, has been seen as a potential blow for Mr Chirac at a highly politically sensitive time.

Last year, Mr Jospin himself faced corruption charges, of a relatively minor nature, but these were dropped in November due to lack of evidence.

Setbacks

He does however have other problems.

The constitutional court has ruled against some of his centrepiece policies three times in the last two months:

  • In December it banned the government from raiding the social security budget to meet the cost of the reduced 35-hour working week - an issue which has caused severe staff shortages and provoked health strikes
  • In January the body ruled that a law restricting the right of businesses to lay off staff in order to restructure was an attack on the "freedom of enterprise"
  • And later in the month, it tore to pieces the central part of Mr Jospin's self-government plan for the island of Corsica
Both men are also expected to be hit by another problem: voter apathy.

Polls have suggested that up to two-thirds of French voters have already lost interest in the election.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Erik Izraelewicz, deputy editor of Les Echos
"Mr Jospin is too serious for the French people, he never smiles, which is a handicap for him."
The BBC's Sue Haley
"His candidacy was no surprise"
The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"The two men are running neck and neck"
See also:

21 Feb 02 | Europe
The French presidential choices
05 Feb 02 | Europe
Analysis: Crime or conspiracy?
11 Dec 01 | Europe
France sets election date
14 Jun 01 | Europe
Dirty French campaign kicks off
27 Nov 01 | Europe
Jospin corruption charges dropped
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