Page last updated at 09:14 GMT, Friday, 13 April 2007 10:14 UK

Europe diary: France on the boil

12 April 2007

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell plunges into France's political cauldron as the country gears up for a presidential election on 22 April and he considers how campaigning differs from the UK experience.

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French centre-right UMP presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy with supporters in Tours

The man the opinion polls say will be the next president of France has been out and about in the Loire Valley. Nicolas Sarkozy has shaken hands with people restoring a chateau, chatted with youngsters learning hairdressing and made his triumphant way out of a hall in Tours packed close with supporters. He has passionately defended his controversial record.

I love election campaigns and watching politicians in action. But most people get their politics not in the flesh but from people like me, TV reporters. And in France for the next couple of weeks they'll be getting a rather odd picture.

Let's put it this way. Would it make any difference to the result of the next British general election if Gordon Brown and David Cameron were given exactly the same air time as Nick Griffin of the British National Party (BNP) or the candidates of the Socialist Workers Party? That's what has to happen in France. The presidential election has two rounds, and the first vote serves to narrow a large field to a simple two-horse race for the second round. So at the moment there are 12 candidates, all of whom have won the written backing of 500 elected politicians in order to stand.

Segolene Royal campaign video on French TV
Segolene Royal is battling to consolidate left-wing support

Here's the rub. By law French radio and TV have to give all the candidates the same amount of air time. All broadcasters know the horrors of stop-watch balance. Many is the time I've got the message "the editor says can you get the SNP in?" "Well tell him 'yes' but I'll need another minute." "He'll give you 45 seconds." It may be vital for democracy, but it doesn't make for elegant television.

But British law and the BBC's own guidelines are as nothing compared to the rigour of French law. To include a short 20-second clip of each candidate a report would be four minutes long without the reporter saying a word of introduction. So each and every report would have to be at least five minutes long. The upshot is that of course it doesn't happen. There are special election programmes, but the news deals in opinion polls and generalities.


But this has one unexpected bonus. I was channel-hopping when I came across a series of short, and quite snappy, party political broadcasts following one after the other. You might think this sounds dull viewing, but it is a lot more interesting, and gives you a much better perspective, than something tagged on before or after the news. The best watch was Oliver Besancenot, the Trotskyite postman. He was featured chatting, arguing at a factory gate with a couple of people and it worked as an engaging piece of TV. Madame Royal was deliberately presidential. But what came across to me was the scale of the opposition she faces, and I don't mean Mr Sarkozy.

Far-right FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen
Le Pen stunned France by reaching the runoff in 2002

It used to be a slogan of Republicans in France: "No enemies to the left!" This is not something Segolene is likely to say. In broadcast after broadcast, the same message was repeated: the threat of globalisation, the trampled rights of workers, the ravages of capitalism and economic liberalism. This of course is not just the result of a strict broadcasting law. The left is more fractured and Marxism more alive in France than anywhere else in Europe.

In Britain, there are of course Marxist groups, but most people seem to believe that capitalism is the only currently possible economic system and arguments are about redistribution and restrictions within it. It is such an accepted belief that it feels rather odd writing it down. But in France that is not so.

This has a very real effect on this election. The practical effect of a vote for the Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist League, the Alternative Globalisation party, Workers Struggle or the Workers Party is to take a vote away from Ms Royal. I am not trying to undermine the glorious unpredictability of democracy. Of course Workers Struggle could leap from the 6% it got last time to victory. But don't hold your breath.. What many on the left fear is a repeat of 2002, when the smaller parties leeched support from Lionel Jospin to allow far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen through to the second round. Of course, Mr Sarkozy faces a similar threat from smaller parities of the right, but his real problem is with the other two realistic contenders - Le Pen and Francois Bayrou.


In the packed hall in Tours, Sarkozy's passionate discourse on immigration and integration gets them stamping their feet. I'm sitting on the steps of a temporary stand next to a woman in her mid-twenties. As Sarkozy came to one climactic point of his argument the twenty-something woman next to me exclaimed "voila!" - as if he was providing the clinching point that had eluded her in past arguments with friends. Throughout his speech she had been muttering "c'est vrai, c'est vrai" (true, true!). A few seats away a smart woman, her grey hair cut elegantly short, smartly punched the air and waved a poster, almost in imitation of political activists she had seen on TV. I didn't get the feeling it was something she did very often.

I have been to three Segolene Royal rallies and there is a palpable difference. The Socialist party supporters are happy to back someone who could win, who shares at least some of their values. Here it is the man himself they are backing. Outside I talk to a woman who says she lived in London for a long while. She wants Sarkozy as her president, but wants to justify her choice. "In America I would not be a Republican," she tells me, continuing: "He and Tony Blair are (she pressed her palms together) are they not?" Certainly in the hall I didn't hear a single idea that would be shockingly out of place in a Labour manifesto, I didn't hear anything that could not have come from the lips of John Reid or David Blunkett. On second thoughts, I'm not sure I can imagine them singing the Marseillaise. My new friend says she remembers "when your country was poor," adding that French Socialists are like the Labour Party of those days. But the Labour Party in those days didn't have French TV guidelines giving Marxist factions valuable air time.

Please use the post form below to comment on any of the issues raised in the diary.

In my part of la France Profonde, my neighbours will vote for anyone who promises to get the stifling beaurocracy off their backs and let them earn a living. Unfortunately, they don't see anyone among the candidates able or willing to do so, so their vote will be cast for one of the usual suspects - a career politician wary of upsetting any of the 'social partners' - and only appearances will change in France after the presidential election.
doris ward, argenton chateau france

Having lived in France for the last 2 years I really enjoy the different appraoch the French have to politics. People are very open with their opinions and really enjoy the fight. it is a great change from the 'soundbite' contect over the channel. However no-one seems to really want to rock the boat and unfortunately in our global world this boat is heading for reefs.
James Hodson, Montgenevre, France

I wish the BBC was more aware that international opinion can have an effect on national choice of politics. A quick analysis of all the political candidates agenda -reveals that Sarkozy is only interested in becoming President and nothing more (social change takes years unless it comes from a police state) and Royal is the only real opposition to Sarkozy. Favourite candidates are Bové (sustainability) and Voynet (green)although French friends holding votes agree they will vote Royal to ensure the safety of their fellow citizens (citizen in the sense people who live here).
Penelope , Paris

Those who compare Jean-Marie Le Pen's movement to the BNP and brand him "Far-right" or an "extremist" prove that they have no understanding of what is happening in France today. Le Pen will get more than 20% of the votes and will be in the second round. Don't forget that he has consistently improved his scores in the presidential elections and ended up with 17% last time. Also his electorate is the most loyal of all with over 80% faithfuls. Add that Mégret and the Populist Party have joined forces with him, that's another good 2%. I vote José Bové so I believe my comments are unbiased.
Gaston Favresse, London

As a french citizen living in Sweden, I shall next sunday vote for the only leader possible.JEAN MARIE LE PEN. France and the rest of Europe need a wake up call. The left and the right are the same. The time hascomefor a massive rebellion against muslim immigration, and the dictators in Bruxelles. I rather votefor a party that says clearly what it thinks than the hypocritical lefties or rightists.
c.simon, sweden

I'm a French citizen born in Mauritius. Well it's incredible to see how polls can direct people views in two directions - Mrs Royal and Mr Sarkosy. What about the others ? What is the the margin of error of these polls 5 % - 10 % or 0 % as they wish us to beleive ??? If so probably again we'll see another 2002 when no poll institute gave the right predictions. Published polls which do not give their margin of error are rubish when they give a winner by a 2 % margin.
BHAGEERUTTY Kishore, Bourg en Bresse, France

We droped equal airtime rules in the states back in the 90's and to be honest third parties have done at least as well or better since then.
Nick Michelewicz, Keene, New Hampshire, USA

The socialists are the biggest threat to this country as they have an actual chance of being elected in the second round. How Ségolène can justify her ridiculous program is beyond me, case in point: increasing minimum wage to 1.500 ? a month... how? with good will and a rose! As the median (not average!) salary hovers between 1250 and 1400 i wonder how on earth she will be able to find 200 extra euros a month for the majority of french workers, it doesn't make sense, she peddles populist ideals and her campaign is focused on the criticising of the right. She has no authority, no economic sense and is the epitome of the gauche caviar. Why does it have to be so bad to earn money and make a good living, somehow it is inextricably linked to the french instilled catholic morals, that despite the laïcité of the State, continues to permeate society. In France the less you talk about money and the poorer and more charitable you portray yourself the better you are.
Henrik, Paris, France

To those of you that likes our "same time for everyone policy" never heard or seen the people begging for or votes. They are away from reality, because they don't have a chance to win. They always say the same damn speech, because they don't have any other idea...Ideas from one century ago, ideas that were proven to be big mistakes... They're not even funny. When I was a kid, mother told me Maggie was evil. Today, I think we really would need someone like her, someone that would not stop when two or three demonstrator would show up...just to move on one day.
Nick, Paris, France

I have lived here 4 years. I have a multi ethnic group of friends. They are basically afraid of Sarkozy. This is man who stands on tiptoes when he is photographed. Who wants to stop immigration, who calls poor people scum. He is openly hunting votes from the National Front. He has immense energy when he talks, and power of conviction, and perhaps is too excitable, making some comment he might already be going crazy. By contrast the problem is Royale is so serene she is turning into a non-entity, she doesn't seem to want it badly enough and she is not leading at all but telling the french a load of policies but nothing about how it will happen. This is her big error, if she ranted about the state of the country and showed people what she willing to do to fix it she would walk this election. She smiles and talks in droning voice almost like a 'stepford mum'. Bayrou looks like he will win through because of fear of one and apathy for the other. Those English or other Nationalites touting Sarko would do well to be very attentive to what he says. This is a man who admires Bush US middle eastern policy, it is a man many fear could be the new French Emperor. Europe is not his cup of tea.
collie, Nice

As a young British person working in France I would say one of the biggest problems here is the lack of trust the older generation have in the young. People here think it's strange that a 21-year old should have completed university and be working full time as in Britain, and the baby-boom generation just seems to be sitting on all the wealth and positions of responsibility without opening up to the young. Often all twenty-somethings can do is spend years at university or doing poorly paid "stages" (work placements) rather than being encouraged to start contributing to the economy.
Henry Rich, Paris, France

France is probably fine for all the middle-aged people living in it that benefited from lots of perks handed out when the economy was doing fine and employment was high during the 30 glorieuses. To answer those that say France is doing fine, I will say that it is for those people! But it certainly is not for young people who have to beg for jobs, get paid nothing, have no perks, have high real estate prices and live at home. I am living in the US, and as a young person, I am doing very well for myself. Everyday young people leave France just like me (300,000 just in London alone). France seriously needs to think to liberalize its economy, so that more jobs can be created....until then, the brain drain and the lack of investments will continue. After all, who wants to put their money in a place where the government takes most of it.
Peter, Washington DC

Despite all the claims about "égalité, fraternité et liberté", France is still a monarchy, but with an all-powerful president as head of state instead of a powerless king or queen (as in Britain and the Netherlands). The country is ruled accordingly and hence nothing changes. Everything in the name of "La Gloire" and nothing in the name of progress. Pity.
Albert, Amsterdam

Sarkozy would like to apply for liberalism but cannot even pronounce the word. The PS : officially the hymn is still "the international" and capitalism is not an accepted system (I predict PS will split up). Labor Party is assimilated with far right. Most of young people want to become "fonctionnaire" Very few chance I come back to this funny country expect of course for holidays or retirement.
Didier Lebon, french expat - bruxelles

French people are capable of the best and the worst beleive me! With us, you have to expect the unexpected. That is, one week only before the first round, I have still hope/faith that the majority of the people will hear the two speeches of Sarkozy and Royal and realise, in all honesty, that the first one has very dangerous ideas and the second is our only hope. But even on the best case sceanario of Segolene, being elected, she better keeps her promises, otherwise some very hard time is awaiting France, let me tell you - I shoud know, I am French myself. The task is NOT going to be easy.
Vanina St Martin, Edinburgh, Scotland

I think those that are denigrating this relative stability in British and American politics are missing the whole point of this article. What is being argued (and quite correctly, I may add) is in fact that British and American politics is less colourful than French politics because of this airtime regulation - but that their political systems are better off in terms of stability and effectiveness because of this. The gentleman who brought up Italian politics brings a great point. If it's 'colour' you're after, Italy is even 'better' than France. But just as the French system finally pales relative to the Anglo-Saxon ones in terms of providing results to its people, does this mean that you would trade your French system for an even less effective but more colourful one in Italy (or India)? If so, I'm sure there are a lot of Italians and Indians who would jump at that offer.
H. Juneja, London, UK

France may be experiencing difficulty economically and with immigration, but as a nation it should be admired for doing two things: following its own path, and being open to a real political spectrum. One thing notably lacking amongst these commments is a sense of shared history between Francophones and Anglophones - Canada is predicted to sky rocket to over 50 million citizens by 2040, easily rivalling France and the UK in population...we have the great benefit of both nations' political and social heritage and it has done us very well. British stoicism and French joi-de-vivre make for a vigorous and lively culture, and it should not be forgotten that whether the Tories win the next election in the UK or Sarkozy does win in France, the essence of their cultures won't change and the politicians ultimately will have to be true to the average citizen's concept of their nation. The US aside, doomsday scenarios just aren't realistic in the modern Europe.
Nathan Jenkins, London, Canada

The only advice i can give the French people is...DON'T try to emulate Britain. If i had the means, i would have moved to France 20 years ago.
Alex Maricic, Fife, Scotland

What the French want is someone who is not afraid to take on the criminals who, in the last 30 years, have turned safe and pleasant french "banlieues" into territories occupied by work-shy, integrists, anti-french delinquents issued from uncontrolled immigration.
Jean-Luc ROYER, England

What amazes me is that the candidates are allowed to get away with so much. The French TV journalists are so subservient. What is needed is for each candidate to be given a good Paxman-style grilling and then a live debate amonst themselves with a strong chairman.
John Ette, Le Pradet, France

Being an American studying and working in France, I find the presidential election very interesting. I am not sure who will win but, either way politics and democracy is alive and kicking in France and I hope it will always stay that way. I would love it if in the USA we could have more than just two choices and two parties for our presidential elections coming up next year. My french friends are very open about their views on the canidates and we love discussing our different perspectives of each canidate and speculating on how they would change France. I find that the Journalist of this article hasn't given serious thought or consideration to the way of life and history of the french people and their political system. Having lived here for almost 2 years I was a bit offended by the tone of his article and I am not even French. I wish the best for France and hope that no matter who wins they will do the best they can for their country and its citizens.
Erin , Lille, France

As all the real power now rests in Brussels and Strasbourg maybe it?s time for EU citizens to stop paying attention, as so many have already done, to local national elections and concentrate on how they are being represented within European institutions. Where it seems democracy plays second fiddle to bureaucracy I propose that national election candidates receive zero free air time as a first step towards shifting our attention. A change that would be simultaneously cost effective, popular and egalitarian.
mike sell, founex, switzerland

I am a French citizen, living in Malaysia and expect to vote in the April Presidential elections. I love my country and believe most French people are very lucky to have been born French even though,like everywhere else things could be much improved. I am also one of the apparently unprecedented large number of undecided voters. To put it more more simply, I find it hard to decide which of the candidates is the least unpalatable. Mitterrand, De Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard d'Estaing had stature, a rationally thought out political programme and a coherent vision of what France should be, whether you agreed with them or not. This lot (Royal, Sarkozy, Bayrou, Le Pen et al) are a bunch of undistinguished politicians scrambling for power. Pauvre France! I'll still vote because I believe it is a duty (hard won over the centuries) but without any conviction.
Christine Sathiah, Penang, Malaysia

I have to say i enjoy reading rich English people living in Limousin/Aquitaine/Languedoc-Roussillon complaining about the French welfare system in happy oblivion of the rest of France, which would be destroyed in the way so many northern, Scottish and Welsh towns were by unrestricted Thatcherism in the 1980s. Certainly, France needs economic reform if it is to go forward from where it is now, but the sort of ruthless cutthroat politics that Sarkozy is advocating is frightening for people in the north of France, where the collapse of industry is still felt very strongly, and where a "tough" immigration policy would create tensions that don't need to be exacerbated.
Mark Brown, Lens, France

I think France's "equal time" standard, while perhaps cumbersome from a TV producer's standpoint, is far superior to the system in the US where presidential candidates are given large endowments of public money to produce 30 second TV commercials. The result is an enormously inefficent use of public and private resources to fund essentially smear campaigns where issue-oriented discussion is practically non-existent. However, this would probably upset the US media lobby, so don't expect change any time soon.
Mike Taylor, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA

Have lived in both countries and in France presently. Sorry to disappoint everyone but there is no ideal political system wheather from the States, Great Britain or France and I agree with the negative points concerning the US + GB. However the particularity of France is that the French people have been living with the myth of the "30 glorieuses" (the best 30 economic years after WW2) and kept to believe that it could continue for another 30...... and there is now a huge gap between the state paid employees (in the energy, and transport big dept) who enjoy work security and numerous privileges and the REST : self-employed, low payed workers from small firms, shopkeepers..... who do not enjoy eany goodies and have to pay their electricity and gas and telephone bills full rate (unlike employees of EDF (for electricty)or France Telecom...)I would like to know if employees from the different electricity co. in GB or US pay their electricity at reduced rate ? Sometimes you feel ! in France you are in a republic with some old fashion aristocratic/monarchist remaining that everyone moans about but not one politician dares talking about let alone question its democratic values... To finish France will always be a great country of contradictions where poeple love laws which loks perfect on paper but impossible to apply in real ...............I just hope that this time French people will refuse to be kept in the dark or above the clouds of the real economic situation (one of the highest european debt, a shrinking pension system..........)and that we have to accept and adapt to this new globalisation of everything (from economy to terrorism) and think hard and suggest a real alternative...
Elisabeth, France + England

I've lived all over Europe and for the last five years in Paris and much as I love the city, country, culture, way of life etc. I have to honestly say that I've never been worse off financially. I would probably qualify for housing benefit and several other subsidies but I'm restricted from earning overtime. It is a crazy situation. If i was American I'd vote Democrat and have always considered myself centre-left but in France Sarkozy is seen as extreme and if that's the case, well I'm extreme too.
john healy, paris, france

The issue of air time in the media is undermined by the way the media portait a candidate in news pieces. For example, N Sarkozy will win debates after debates but the media in France will mention his name every time there are riots for whatever reasons. Also, Royal was shown as the messiah until she messed it up herself. Suddenly Bayrou turns up and the media almost openly present him as the 'if you don't want Sarkozy in, vote for this no-mark'. Basically the media (most of which has leftist ideals) don't want Sarkozy in and will do whatever they can to sink him. Shameful but so typical of the French elite (media and politics) which has put the country in this situation in the first place.
Nick, London

Le Pen's score last time was not the fault of the minor candidates! The first turn was won by the "leave me alone i'm on holiday" party; in fact the level of abstentionwas higher than the score of any candidate!
Judy Wood, Lyon, France

France desperately needs economic reform and the successful integration of immigrants into French society. Sarkozy may be able to deliver on the former but will fail miserably on the latter. His record as Interior Minister is shocking in this respect and his potential election may only highten the tensions between les banlieues and the police. Royal would keep France economically uncompetitive for the duration of her presidential term and her foreign policy gaffes so far do not inspire confidence. Sarkozy will easily win the first round with Royal trailing in second, but Sarkozy is a polarising figure and I would not be surprised to see Segolene becoming President.
Ben Lonsdale, Manchester

I am no prophet, but I forecast there will be no one from the Left in the runoff. Sarkozy and Le Pen will eventually be the final contenders. Why ? Because French do not confess they are voting for Le Pen in opinion polls. Because the old far right leader has not been campaigning himself, letting his daughter Marine Le Pen on the front line. And she succeeded in giving a softer image of her father. Because he has criticised recent measures against smokers and speed checks and such type of demagogic speech is very popular with French. Because nothing has really changed since 21st of April 2002 but there has been the riots at the end of 2005 and the ones in Gare du Nord end of March 2007 and this is fuelling the protesting votes in favour of Le Pen. There will be a new shock on the 22nd of April 2007 when Le Pen is placed in the final race. I am no prophet, but Sarkozy will be the next French president. And what about Royal in all this ? Pardon me... Who did you say ?
Antoine de Champs, Tours, France

Olivier Besancenot sounds like a man who knows what he is talking about...rightly condemning the appalling neo-liberal capitalism that has festered under both the right and the so-called left in France for far too long. It is the unmitigated disater of the capitalist system that has created the massive unemployment and alienation,discrimination,and injustice throughout France on a vast scale.How refreshing then to hear someone putting forward a real alternative to the much hated neo-liberal capitalist nightmare of more disatrous privatisation plans for big business, which both Sarkozy and Royal defend. How refreshing then to hear someone condemn the violence and discrimination of the French police. How refreshing to hear someone defend public services and public sector workers,the right to a stable and decent job and present ideas about creating a genuine socialist alternative to capitalism. Another world is possible and another France is necessary. Segolene Royal seems to be presenting the same old failed Blairite right wing ideas.Think again!

I think a new generation of politicians is now there for France, but I'm not sure, the coming president will be accepted by the whole population. I'm a wee bit anxious for France's Future.
F.ROUX, Bourges,France,

you are wrong to underestimate the importance of francois bayrou and only to focus on the main both political parities : the right and the left
nicolas, paris, france

I've lived in France for many years, and run a business with my husband. Yes - France has a wonderful way of life, a health system second to none, but economically, France is on its knees. The Loony Left - more like an extreme version of Michael Foot's socialist vision - is desperate to protect the social benefits which have been acquired over 30 years and which cripple the economy. Socialist politicians declare proudly that they do not own shares, a nasty right-wing habit of investing in industry. Madame Royal claims to speak for the lowly-paid while benefiting from her salaries and perks. In the meantime, my husband and I pay away 60% of our earnings to support a lumbering state with its 6 million civil servants. Good luck to Sarko, he's the best of a mediocre bunch, the only one who might just bring a little Egalité to France.
Madeleine Dickson, Limoges, France

An item that should be more prominent on the election agenda on both sides of politics is what should be done about the future of the world's largest nickel deposit, New Caledonia. The country is at boiling point from a mining perspective and some leadership from France is much neeeded, after all it is her duty to do so.
Sebastien Carpin, Brisbane, Australia

I agree that equal airtime for all of the candidates is a strength of the French system, but referring to the disparaging of the American electoral system as Coca-Cola v Pepsi: In 2002, didn't it eventually come down to Le Pen or Chirac? Far-right vs right...How's that for choice?
Khalil, Boston, MA, USA

I am a French citizen and have lived in the USA since the age of 8. I often hear many negative comments about France and Europe. I believe that these comments are born of jealousy. While France may have its problems as everyone does I find the French approach and thought process refreshing and full of life. I believe in the French process and have every confidence that France will prosper and the French will continue to preserve their language, culture and unique way of life in an increasing dull Anglo-American world of politically correct "grey zone".

How nice to know that there is still a country that has not sold out. In the US, where everything including values and principles is for sale, I find it to be stale and the people in part uninterested and unmotivated beyond reaching for the next burger or bag of junk food to put a few more kilos on their already large frame, to put it nicely. France has and will continue to be a society of free thinkers who are not afraid to voice their thoughts. Vive la France!!!
Arthur Brown, LB USA

The French left needs to unite and fight for a radical redistribution of wealth and the urgent transformation of the deeply corrupt capitalist system to a socially just, participative and profoundly democratic, co-operative green socialist society based on the sustainable common ownership of the means of production. This is an alternative as global capitalism runs amok, wreaking havoc and global climate chaos in its wake. Capitalism is doomed! Another France is possible and highly necessary.
Patrick Black, UK

I am a sixth-form student and as I am talking about Le Pen in my Oral Exam the French elections are naturally very interesting to me. I don't think Le Pen will win (and, after extensive research the vast number of anti-Semitic comments he has made over the years, I sincerely hope he won't win as well) but I am not convinced by either Sarkozy or Royal. Sarkozy seems very underhand, a man who you would imagine to be right-handed but to keep his wallet in his left-hand pocket; Royal should not be let anywhere near a microphone when it comes to foreign policy. I don't know much about Bayrou, but I would not be appalled if he won - he appears to be the best of a bad bunch.
Chris Stanley, Stroud, England

Much like American political races, advertising a politician is a political party's biggest concern. The BNP and UMP have marketed their candidates to match the sentiment and feeling of their constituents, Ms. Royal feels scripted, however has an uncanny ability to improvise her responses to well thought-out questions from the press. Sarkozy swears to carry out his party's goals but incorporates his own ideas. However he is sheepishly stubborn towards alternative methods of carrying out policies. I think many voters will vote based on their feelings towards each candidate and not on what policies would be best for the country.
Finn Raftery, Seattle, United States

In principle, it's democratic to provide the same air time for all politicians who manage to get 500 mayor's signatures in order to run for presidency. Unfortunately, the result is the exact opposite. Those who only want to rant, and have no political platform because they know that they will never be elected, feel free to lobotomize political discourse in France. The result has been 25 years of meaningless hypocrisy. Hardly anything said has any relation to reality and as a result, very little if anything is done to address the real issues. Worse, the extremism of so many statements, along with the infamous "acquis sociaux", on which no one will give an inch, lull people into hating work, which is, of course, "a form of oppression" of the "monstrous capitalist exploiters". Ho hum. And worse still, if and when Sarkozy wins, the undemocratic left will not accept the result of the democratic process. Any reform will be met by attempts to totally block France by massive protest movements. Pity.
Douglas McCarthy, Paris, France

Picking up from what Richard Tomlinson wrote, as a British citizen living in France why will I lose my right to vote in the UK national elections when I complete my fifteenth year abroad? That is truly losing one's vote, in our so-called EU of equals.
John Ward, Metz, France

The problem in France is that French society in recent years has been turned upside down and they do not know what to do about it. France has seen a rapid rise in immigration, unemployment and violence. Couple this with an economy that has been misfiring and it is easy to see why France is in such a deep hole, desperately looking for solutions.

It may hurt French pride, but modelling itself on Great Britain and taking the best of what the British have done, whilst keeping the best of French could really sort out modern France. Take immigration - why can the French not embrace multiculturalism as the British have? What about the economy - the British don't seem that worried about globalisation, so why are we?.. The British have barely any Marxists, simply because there is no place for them. In France they offer a solution to a problem, Britain has no problem (relatively) and therefore no heavy solutions need offering.

France needs to think seriously, politicians need to step back, be brave and say things that actually the French may not want to hear. Unfortunately, owing to this election, that is not going to happen, and France is not going to get any better.
Frederic Lacroix, Paris, Francais

Eric Paul - you seem to fundamentally misunderstand American political campaigns and related US legislation. Section 315 of the US Communications Act details the equal time rule regulating US political campaigns. It and subsequent amendments are very well crafted and might inform you more completely.

I do think that France's strict equal air time rule is to be admired and is something modern democracies should strive for; as some already do, though perhaps not in such an austere manner.
N. Campbell, New Orleans, USA

Personally I feel sorry for the French. There is no-one worthy of the presidency today. The choice is awful, but what must be understood is that the first round is the real choice and public opinion, the second is a knock-out to get rid of the worst candidate. Maybe they should really start thinking about voting for and not against. Be warned they are heading for Thatcherism if they vote Sarkozy, and we British all know what that did! We are still paying. I live, but sadly don't vote, in France and have done for 15 years, this is my 3rd election.
V.Miller, Nancy, France

The role of president urgently needs reforming (as does the whole constitution), as no one is very sure about which role (s)he has, especially if confronted with an opposition parliament. These elections have been the most exciting in decades, yet I do believe that none of the candidates will take the necessary stance to reform the institutions. I also fear that due to the huge division of France into pro- and anti-Sarkozy, we might very possibly end up with a cohabitation for the next five years.

The most striking aspect of this campaign is the increasing role of the media, especially television. The majority of the French electorate will not seek information about the candidates but will expect it to come to them, mainly through television and radio (still a very popular medium, especially the morning and afternoon news). In such a system, the most able orators and communicators have a clear advantage. Unfortunately, these happen to be MM Sarkozy and Le Pen.
Quentin Liger, London, UK

Well, the French system may have the advantage that we look at the candidates' ideas and not only at how much cash they raise for their campaign. Living in the US, I came to realize that no matter what you believe in, money is the only driving force toward a warm seat at the White House.
Emmanuel Gilles, Bronx, USA

From the popularity of Sarkozy, I'd say any leanings toward Marxism here are fleeing in the face of growing economic and globalization problems. He's a scary guy, Sarko, the way he reaches for the far-right votes and disarms his critics by saying, "Is it wrong to talk about national identity? Is that a bad word?" Because of course they can't say that without alienating a lot of French people! Many of my French friends here agree that the election is pitiful. There is no one offering any real solutions to the problems threatening this country. But it would be nice to hear more about Bayrou. He's the most sensible by far, and the only one really trying to address the issues of immigration and discrimination.
Maria Alexander, Aix-en-Provence, France

I've had enough of this France-bashing: it is still one of the best countries to live, and I wouldn't even think of moving to the rainy, crowded country ruled by the NHS-dicta. Here, life is good and relaxed, the best education and health system, I pay only a little bit more than what I used to pay in the US as taxes. The political life has not been anaesthetized like it has been in Anglo-Saxon countries - and we all know where that leads us: Bush, born-again Christians, evolution-revisionists and co. Funny that some of the French-bashing is coming from expats in France. If it is so bad, what are you guys doing here? :) France has a lot of problems, sure, but it is still "better" than the rest - nothing is ever perfect..
Baris Tarim, Caen, France

One must recognise the plethora of choices available to French voters. Charles de Gaulle said there are as many ideas in France as there are cheeses. This is perfectly represented in this election with for example Le Pen's far right and Laguiller's far left. I think these extremist ideals reveal a great deal about the sense of upheaval in French society and shows how fragmented a society it is. The unemployment, lack of economic growth, immigration are all thorny issues which are as divisive as they are polemic and the longer these particular problems last, the more it adds to Le Pen's following. As for Le Pen, he will always get that 10%-15% he consistently gets in elections because of how determined his supporters are. His recent success though is down to a series of socio-economic problems which a series of governments, both right-wing and left-wing, have failed to solve.
Cormac Mac Gabhann, Dublin, Ireland

Having lived in France for some time, it strikes me that its system of high job protection and generous social benefits serves only to ensure that the underprivileged few are condemned live with few prospects, a life spent literally on the margins: on the council estates bordering the big cities, dependant on the state. No surprise that the signs of social fracture and growing dissatisfaction are plain to see. So much for equality, freedom and brotherhood! I don't like Sarkozy much as a person, but he seems to be the only candidate willing to undertake the drastic liberalisation that France so desperately needs.
Dominic Higgins, London, England

EU citizens are entitled to vote in EU elections, local council and industrial tribunal elections, so Richard Tomlinson's complaint is not fully accurate. There is always the option of acquiring French nationality for the other elections. I have done so and this is one of the reasons why.
David Buick, Rennes, France

To Mr Tomlinson: As an EU citizen and permanent resident in an EU country other than your own, you are allowed to vote (and stand) in local elections: that includes city council, county council and "region" council elections. Then, just as I was not allowed to vote in the general election when I lived in the UK, you are not allowed to vote in the presidential election in France.
Julien Randon-Furling, Paris, France

In my extended conversations with French citizens from all walks of life, it surprises me that most are not too far apart on issues like immigration and globalization. Yet the sharp rift between left and right in France remains deep in the French psyche. It reaches down to a visceral level that defies logic and plays into the political strategies of career politicians. Is it possible for France to keep democracy but ditch its self-seeking party system?
Donald Williams, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA

I think it's great that you have so many choices in France and that there is a law enforcing equal time to all. Your system makes me jealous as an American. We are forced to choose between only two candidates who are in fact almost identical anyway. All other parties or independents are refused any time by the media.
Mark Ellis, York, USA

Your article lacks the respect that we deserve. You dismiss us without really looking at who we are and what we do. The French Communist Party, of which I am a member, has 130,000 members and 13,000 persons that hold public offices. Your own Liberal Party has far fewer members. Who are you to dismiss the views of the citizens in any of these parties? I should remind you that many dismissed the views of Democrats in the early 18th century, yet Europe was transformed. You seem to believe Marxists have no place in politics today. I, on the other hand, find your clinging to a monarchy outdated and a drain on your state's finances. I suppose you have the right to maintain a royal family. I would prefer to maintain our low rate of child poverty and fight for a socialist state.
Russell Yates, Meaux, France

I am following my first election as a French resident, though not voter, and agree that the short presentations by each contender each day are very snappy and engaging. Saying something different each time holds the interest too. The galloping music that opens each space is also attention-grabbing. Trouble is, they all sound so sincere and seem so nice!

What is important, I think, is that yes they are reading prepared material, not reacting to questions, but at least they get to finish what they have to say without being constantly interrupted. (So many presenters take so long introducing their guest that the guest with a fascinating point to make often barely says hello before the time slot is over.) Especially in the morning, I think a straight, uninterrupted performance is more attractive than voices shouting all at once and seeing ALL the candidates does help sort who is who and what they stand for. How often have you gone to vote without any idea of the face behind the name on the ballot paper?
Angela Sheard, Romans-sur-Isère, France.

I haven't seen any evidence that a single candidate is facing up to the French budget deficit. The whole country is living on the never-never, and that can't go on for ever.
Andrew H, London UK

The tone of the article implies that it is French democracy that is bizarre for at least attempting to ensure that all parties have an opportunity to make their platforms known. An alternative view would be that allowing more 'popular' parties more airtime (as in England) vastly reduces the chance of smaller parties acquiring the votes that would entitle them to greater coverage next time round. The game is rigged from the start, and yet this is considered the norm from which the French deviate.
Danny Millum, London

It is a very good thing that all candidates are given the same time on TV. It means that democracy and debate are still alive and that economics and finance, and TV companies, cannot impose their rule completely. France therefore avoids to quite a large extent horrors such as the Pepsi/Coke US election system.

The issue is not so much about keeping Marxism alive, however relevant that philosophy remains, but to avoid as much as possible that "la chose politique" becomes only a matter of experts and professional politicians, an intoxicating show in which the ordinary citizen would be only a spectator... Thinking can only be a dynamic process when all possiblities are considered, even those which at the moment seem unreasonable. That is why I wish that France remains as much as possible the laboratory of ideas it has been since at least the 18th century. Finance only likes ideas which like finance, which are compatible with it and I want to think freely.

As for the British system, I don't think the British have a relation to politics which could be compared to the one the French have. The British seem very consensual and traditional and I don't want a two-party system for France.
Eric Paul, Nice, France

France is nothing like as poor as the UK was under Wilson and Callaghan. Yet talking about singing the Marseillaise has some of the same desperation to find a bit of national pride as union jack underpants had in the Carnaby Street of the sixties. It is odd that the country that put liberty into its national motto should have such a fear of liberalism - as if it and its multicultural cousin will come and eat them and their way of life. But until the French realise that the rest of the world doesn't owe them a living and they can't protect everything French by throwing protectionist money at it from higher and higher taxes, they will continue to suffer from high unemployment and the high taxes that most try to avoid paying. There is nothing incompatible between a healthy yet well-regulated market economy and the French way of life. But it doesn't take twelve people to plant the season's flowers on a roundabout!
Ben Lenthall, Cahors, France

Another excellent analysis by Mark... Pity only that he left out Francois Bayrou, who tries to introduce a new political style in France. For me it seems obvious that France has a more lively democratic culture than the UK. Compare this very open election with the passing on of power from Blair to Brown in the UK. The absence of a real democratic debate in the UK is quite a shame for a country that likes to paint itself as the stalwart of democratic rule.
Ronald Gruenebaum, Brussels, Belgium

Unfortunately France is not the Western European country where you can spot the highest level of support for the Jurassic Marxist ideology. When it comes to sound representation in the two chambers of parliament this misfortune is still an Italian privilege. French Marxists are a sideshow with no real power, fragmented maybe colourful.The real black spot in France is the far right - as Jurassic and out of date as the Marxists in Italy but for France misfortune, still with some real power.
Enrico Ferrero, Hellerup, Denmark

Whether the French vote right or left, a man or woman, the French policy of neocolonialism and active support for unpopular puppets in Africa shall continue relentlessly.
Mofor Tangmo Edward, Cameroon

I think Mr Mardell has unknowingly or wittingly left out the factor that underlies French politics at present, FEAR; unemployment, violent behaviour, poverty, institutions that no longer are able to respond to the concerns of the majority...
Paul Hubball, France

I am an EU citizen, am a permanent resident in France, pay my taxes here, but am not allowed to vote in the elections. How can it be legal under EU law that we (and we are many) are excluded from the democratic process?
Richard Tomlinson, Mandelieu, France

I am a French citizen, and, within the forseeable future, a permanent resident and taxpayer in the UK! I cherish my right and duty to vote, and will be voting for the French president on Sunday and have been frustrated at not being able to vote at important UK elections in the UK , especially when I see so many UK citizens NOT exercising their right to vote!(It cost many people their lives or their freedom to ask for the right to vote, in some countries there still is no right to vote, yet , nowadays, both in the UK and in France, so many people can't be bothered!!!) BUT, I have lived here long enough now to apply for British citizenship (and am married to a British citizen). Thankfully, now, I do not have to renounce my French nationality to do that! (You used to be able to be only French, nothing else, or else renounce the French nationality) So, I will apply for British citizenship, it costs £268,and takes up to 8 months to process,but at least I will be able to vote on UK issues and for the UK government! Richard T, perhaps you could investigate whether there is a similar possibility for you to gain these rights in France?
Helgaflower, Cheltenham, UK

To reply to Richard Tomlinson, I am a permanent resident in the UK, paying my taxes here, have been living here for 6 years now, and not allowed to vote here in the elections, because I am not a British citizen. So England is not that much different in that case. But I have always been a person who adored France, the culture, the country. I have never lived there, but I am aware that burocracy makes it difficult sometimes, but with so many English people moving there, it can't be that bad, can it? They should stop complaining about it, or move back here if it's so problematic over there.
Em, Manchester

To Richard Tomlinson: under EU law an EU citizen legally resident in another Member State can vote and stand in the the local and European elections, therefore you can do that in France (I've done it in Belgium). However, no EU Member State allows non-citizens to vote in parliamentary or presidential elections, so nothing special about France there. Your anger should be directed at the British government because it is UK law which takes away your right to vote in the UK after 15 years outside of the country, something that many other European countries do not do. It is undemocratic, but it's got nothing to do with the EU.
Rebecca, Brussels

To Mr Tomlinson, You can vote for local election in France like most of the european countries. If you want to vote you can ask for the french citizenship
Thierry LE ROMANCER, Paris France

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