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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 16:39 GMT
Battle Royal looms for French change
By Clive Myrie
BBC News, Paris

Segolene Royal
Segolene Royal has made it clear France needs a new direction
Segolene Royal entered the local sports hall in the town of Melle, western France, to chants of "President Segolene, President Segolene".

Beaming a smile as wide as the Seine, she was delivering a speech following her emphatic victory in the ballot to become the Socialist presidential candidate.

But this was not just a speech for the party faithful who have pinned their hopes on her - she was also making a direct appeal to the people of France.

She said she did not feel any personal glory, but just immense responsibility and a great duty.

Her goal in aiming for the presidency, she said, was to reverse a feeling of decline in France, to bring about "deep changes in a nation beset by malaise".

'La rupture'

Expect to hear the words "change", "hope", "new beginning" and "new dawn" frequently in the coming race for the presidency.

Not just from the Socialist left, but also from the ruling UMP Party, whose candidate will surely be Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy also embraces the need to break from the past

He has also talked about "la rupture", or break - to free France from the past, to set the country on a new, prosperous course.

It is no surprise these particular words are now important.

Both Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy want to make it clear they will be different leaders from those who have governed France in recent years.

This is a country that for many has lost its way.

Their rhetoric so far suggests a dynamism and "get-up-and-go" that for many people has been lacking in French politics for far too long

With its rejection of a new constitution for Europe, stagnant economy, stubbornly high unemployment and diminishing role on the world stage, something has got to give.

There simply is no place now for "business as usual".

France has to adapt or die. For instance, many believe the country needs to liberalise its economy in a 21st Century world where the likes of India and China are experiencing rapid growth.

Conviction and strength

The only difference between the two candidates on this issue is just by how much France needs to change.

The era of Jacques Chirac will soon be over.

Jacques Chirac
The era of Jacques Chirac, born in 1932, will soon be over

The current president was born in 1932.

Both Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy are in their fifties.

Whoever wins the election next year will become the first president of France born after World War II.

For them, the idea of change may not be as alarming as for politicians of an older generation.

Their rhetoric so far suggests a dynamism and "get-up-and-go" that for many people has been lacking in French politics for far too long.

That sense of stagnation prompted former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to refer to France disparagingly as part of "old Europe".

But will the rhetoric be empty once they get into office? Will the candidates have simply been uttering hollow words designed to win an election?

For people here who do believe France needs to change, that is the big question.

Which one of the candidates has the conviction and strength to really move France forward?

Which one of the candidates truly deserves to be president?


SEE ALSO
France's Royal promises changes
17 Nov 06 |  Europe
Royal battles for nomination
08 Nov 06 |  Europe
France gears up for April polls
24 Oct 06 |  Europe
Europe diary: Royal progress
06 Oct 06 |  Europe

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