[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 20 April 2007, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Europe diary: A useful vote

19 April 2007

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell talks to some of the candidates for the French presidency, and sympathises with voters who fear there would be no point voting for their favourite politician.

The diary is published every Thursday.

Five of the 12 candidates for the French presidency

"Le Pen, President! Le Pen President!" goes up the cry from the small crowd in Boulogne harbour. They're clustered around the little stalls with blue and white awnings where flat fish lie gleaming and gaping on the ice. The stall holders, big women brandishing small knives, look on in approval. A rival shout comes from an even smaller group standing by the road. "Down! Down! Down with the National Front!" Very soon a National Front supporter and a protester are screaming in each other's faces, spittle threatening to fly, just inches away from each other.

"Racist!"
"No patriot, nationalist!"
"Racist!"
"Traitor!"

The phrases "my mate" and "not my mate" ("mon pote" and "pas mon pote") are also traded like blows. "He's not my mate" is one of the Front National's campaign lines, turning on its head a well-known anti-racist campaign slogan, which goes with a picture of two blokes, one black and one white: "Don't touch my mate."

This informed debate is brought to a halt by a cropped-haired goon in a smart pin-stripe suit that isn't really his style at all. Wading in is his style. His knuckles are calloused and bruised, but he just uses his arms to propel the protesters into the road.

MR GENIALITY

Eventually the 79-year-old former paratrooper Jean-Marie Le Pen arrives, smart in a light suit, beaming like everyone's favourite grandad. He's a contrast to the security team, which central casting would send back for being too much of a cliché. The small wiry one has what look like two knife scars across his face, the big one has those tattooed dots on his hand that never mean anything good.

Mr Le Pen at the Boulogne fish stall, with big and small minders

They are so determined to protect their boss in the media crush that their hands press into me, wandering freely all over my zipped-up jacket pockets... I protest and one shows me his security badge, suddenly matey. "Pas mon pote, pas ma poche," I think but don't say.

But Le Pen beams genially as he shakes another willing hand. His daughter Marine calls out, "Dad! Over here, meet these people." Children come forward and ask for his autograph. This is the man who keeps liberal France awake at night. This is the man who shocked the system when he made it into the second round in 2002. He's running higher in the opinion polls now than he did then.

Mr Le Pen tells me that he's hopeful, adding, in English, "I am fighting for it!" I'm wary of terms like "extreme right" - they are value judgements as much as descriptions - so I decide to ask the question posed by protesters. Is he a fascist? "Fascists were Italian," he replies. I press my luck. "Action Francaise weren't," I say, referring to the French inter-war fascist party.

The geniality fades, to be replaced by irritation. "I'm nothing to do with that. I've been fighting elections for 50 years: how long do I have to go on before you consider me a democrat?" And on this day there's not much talk that would ring any alarm bells. His target today is the European Union, and he finds a willing audience among the fishermen and fishmongers, arguing that the French waters are no longer their own.

VOTERS' DILEMMA

There's much talk this week of the idea of "a useful vote". With a crowded field of 12 candidates, a vote utile is one that may actually help a candidate become one of the nags in the two-horse race of the second round. To Le Pen's supporters their vote is useful: he could do it. So could Francois Bayrou, who hopes that he will be the candidate of the centre - of those who don't like Sarkozy and don't think Segolene Royal has the right stuff.

A CROWDED FIELD
Francois Bayrou (Union for French Democracy)
Olivier Besancenot (Communist Revolutionary League)
Jose Bove (Anti-Globalist)
Marie-George Buffet (Communist)
Arlette Laguiller (Workers' Struggle)
Jean-Marie Le Pen (National Front)
Frederic Nihous (Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Traditions)
Segolene Royal (Socialist)
Nicolas Sarkozy (Union for a Popular Movement)
Gerard Schivardi (The Mayors' Candidate)
Philippe de Villiers (Movement for France)
Dominique Voynet (Greens)

Down on a farm in the Loire valley, Bayrou is stressing his rural roots. He talks about the tragedy which changed his life, how his father was killed in a tractor accident and how then he helped his mum breed the cattle. He looks appreciatively at the Jersey cows grazing contentedly behind him and says that theirs is the pinot noir of milk, which makes very good butter (as the pinot noir grape makes very good wine). He seems very relaxed - as someone says, more like a canny village priest than a glib politician. I ask him if he's worried that according to one poll nearly half the French voters haven't made up their minds. He says, No, it's a big choice, an important change and people want the chance to reflect.

The concept of a useful vote is a sharp one. Had the votes of the left-wing candidates all gone to the Socialist last time, then Le Pen wouldn't have made it into the second round. There is a clear possibility that could happen again.

It's probably not a worry to the woman dressed up as a red giant with flaming paint-red hair outside the rally for the Revolutionary Communist League, whose slogan - I hope an ironic reference to advertising - is: "One hundred per cent left!" But it's an acute dilemma for many who really want to vote for the cute-faced and engaging 32-year-old Trotskyist postman, Olivier Besancenot.

A cartoon in the party's paper says it all. One activist is saying to another: "Besancenot is 100% left, 4% in the polls," and his comrade replies, "I prefer that to the other way round." Rolling a cigarette before she goes into the rally, Anne-Eve Renault says, "I've got to vote soon and everyone says you have to have a useful vote. For me that would be Segolene Royal. But if I voted for my ideas I would vote Revolutionary League. I really don't know what to do."

MAN OF THE STREET

The hall is packed, well over 1,000 people, many of them standing or squatting on the floor. Olivier Besancenot, dressed in jeans, a grey T-shirt and open, hooded sweat shirt, talks the slangy language of the streets. He's a charismatic speaker, bouncing from the knees, using his hands in wide gestures as he assaults in turn nuclear power, the police, Stalinism, the lack of social housing, low wages, Blair, Sarkozy, Le Pen and Royal. Le Pen is hissed like a pantomime villain. I want to shout, "He's behind you!"

I ask Besancenot if he doesn't think there could be a repeat of 2002? He says, "If Le Pen is getting 18% it's because unemployment, misery and poverty are breeding grounds for the extreme right. The problem is, if we have a government of the weak and flabby left, in five years' time he won't get 18%; it'll be his daughter getting 30%. It's not just about scattered votes, it's about how to fight the extreme right."

A VOTE ON THE EU CONSTITUTION?

In London, the government probably feels the only useful vote is one for their boy. Their boy? New Labour may well admire Sarkozy's tough line on immigration and his promises to liberalise the French economy, but they desperately need him for his plans for the European constitution. Either of the other two main candidates would really cause waves across La Manche. Bayrou and Segolene Royal have both promised a referendum which the government views much as a vampire views garlic.

Young supporters of Nicolas Sarkozy
New Labour shares this sentiment
Now Tony Blair and the Dutch PM have publicly backed a new "amending treaty", they seem to have fallen into line with Sarkozy's plan for a "mini-treaty". Mr Sarkozy's advisers tell me he sees this campaign as a plebiscite on the plan to revive some elements of the constitution in a future treaty.

It's true, his view that changes to the EU's rules should be introduced without a referendum is well known. But it has hardly dominated the campaign. Indeed, I can't recall it being mentioned in a speech. But does he want as tiny a mini-treaty as Britain, or is he open to something grander? He's open. "That would be a subject for negotiation," is the answer.

So we know Blair's position but what about Brown's? Is he happy with the Sarkozy line, I ask? The adviser laughs heartily. "I would not use the word 'happy' to describe Mr Brown and Europe," he says. But he is content with the plan, I am told. My guess is that they hope that with all the hoo-ha about the leadership that will blow up between now and June, a deal on the constitution won't make big headlines.

INVISIBLE BARRIER

But back in France, what of the candidate who captivated the media's imagination months back? Segolene Royal doesn't seem to have broken through some sort of invisible barrier.

Young supporter listens to Segolene Royal
Ms Royal has not yet grabbed the public imagination
There's a fascinating new book out in English "Segolene Royal - a biography" by the British writer Robert Harneis, who also translated Sarkozy's latest oeuvre (both published by Harriman House). It's a good read, and casts some light on an intriguing and complex character, who still puzzles me. I'm not sure I go along with Mr H's contention that Segolene's military father was not as strict as she has hinted. His line that at the time she was growing up "every French ironmonger sold a whip, rather like a small cat o' nine tails, for punishing naughty children," made me shiver.

What fascinated me more was that the ultra-conservative colonel was married to a woman of rather different views. Mrs Royal senior was a keen ecologist when it was seen as cranky and backed the events of 1968, saying: "From now on it is forbidden to forbid." It must have made for what Mr Besancenot's supporters might call an interesting dialectic.

But what also comes across from the book is the way that Ms Royal has repeatedly seized on small issues that capture the imagination of people and press, but also say something about the wider political debate. From putting the clocks back, to visible G-strings on schoolgirls, from violence on TV, to dumping of foreign medical waste, her campaigns have leapt into the headlines throughout her career. Why on earth has she not found an issue to use in the same way in this election campaign? Is she waiting for the second round? Or will she be stopped by the useless vote?

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


"every French ironmonger sold a whip, rather like a small cat o' nine tails, for punishing naughty children" : It is perfectly true. I was born in 1960 and I remember perfectly well the whips hanged in the stalls when I went to the market as a child. But I can't tell about one of my friend ever being punished with one of them, in my opinion, they only where a threat. There were some fathers who beated their children, though, but they used their belts... You can see that in some movies of the sixties. So I can easily believe Ségolène Royal if she tells she has been beaten but is it really the point ?!
Véronica Riboulot, Rennes, France

Sego is quite possibly the worst candidate ever put up by a major party in Europe. What I find more sexist than pictures of her legs is that the Socialists thought that putting up an attractive woman as their candidate, despite her lack of intelligence or experience, would automatically get them back in power.
Jakob, Leiden, The Netherlands

Sarkozy emphasizes restoring law and order as if France is in anarchy, Royal is simply passing the buck at every issue, Bayrou doesn't stand out for me, while Le Pen is as always exploiting fears of immigration to win votes. Every candidate wants to either mother or father the nation - the election issue has been turned into a parentage comptition. However, the real issue in France is when is the government going to stop trying to mother or father its citizens but start making important economic reforms, such as liberalising the economy. This will provide, much desired jobs for the 'unruly' youth that Sarkozy calls "scum."
Alkn Chaglar, London, UK

My girlfriend is French, and a strong Socialist. Yet she, like so many others in France, was undecided until very recently. Simply put, she thinks that Royal doesn't have very 'socialist' ideas, and isn't going to do anything for France. Consequently, she will be voting for Bayrou, as she believes that she must vote to stop Sarkosy or Le Pen from winning, and she feels that Bayrou can at least help France.
Jonathan, Plymouth, England

FIVE years to the day I did vote for Lionel Jospin. Tomorrow, along with millions individual voters I'll vote for Ségolène Royal as well as on MAY 6th. This "useful/utilitarian" vote will make the difference this time and we'll get a real second round, at last ! LT
ELTE, PONT 'n ABAD - BRITTANY - FRANCE

Let's be short & sweet. France needs the type of reforms that Margaret Thatcher did in the UK and whether you like it or not, Sarkosy is the only one that can succeed in beefing up good old France!
Nico, London, UK

The situation of France today is really sad. This is a country that at a point in history shined with modern ideas that were used to build the strongest country in the world today...Now we don't know where/what France stands for anymore....
Nina, NYC, NY, USA

"If you think France needs Thatcher methods, why don't you just go to live in UK." wrote Nicolas (Paris, France) The thing is Nicolas 300.000 young, ambitious, well educated, London-based French people are doing just that....to France's detriment. For the rest.... in a recent opinion pole 75% of young French people said they wanted to work for the government....that's not going to drive the GDP per head much is it? (France's global ranking has slipped from 7th to 17th in recent years)
Rudy, Belgium

It is rather funny that everyone thinks only french middle class doesn't want any changes. The upper class is quite confortable with the current social security for the wealthy, otherwise know as subsidies, the UMP, Mr Sarkosy's party, despite it's liberal make-up has always protected failing businesses, especially those of their friends. Another miconception is that the 9% of unemployed are looking for a job, as Coluche, one of the most famous comic, said; money would be enough. And you don't get much money working in the low end jobs in France.
Thierry, Chiangmai Thailand

Chirac stood up to the US and didn't enter the Iraqi war. Thank heavens. Which of the present candidates would have the courage to do the same in a similar situation? Sarko; no, Sego; so-so, Peno; let's go, Bayo; I don't know! The candidates might be chasing after the voters at the extremes, but it is the centre that commands, and if Bayrou makes it through to the second round we could well see a pragmatist as president.
Shaun, Divonne, france

I tend to agree with Sarkozy. France needs economic reform in order to remain a global power. I'm NOT promoting that France liberalize as much as the UK or US, but I do beleive France is in dire need of economic change. Also, France's relations with the US are strained enough. If Royal is elected, both countries will be walking a fine line with each other.
Thomas, Saint Louis, MO, US

Don't let the Oregon address fool you, I am French. Seeing French politics from outside the country is very weird, almost surreal. I wasn't old enough to vote last election, and I have since moved out of the country. What I do know is that France is in dire need of a wake-up call as far as economics goes, and the real problem lies with the number and the power of unions that basically paralyze the country whenever a small change that would hurt them is made. This is particularly true of farmers and SNCF (railway service) employees, they will do as much as they can to disrupt the country to make their opinions known...

I see no contradiction with small businesses and a booming economy. Of course successful enterprises will become larger, that's the name of the game, but we can help the less successful stay in the market place. The real trouble is that France is so encrusted with unions everywhere that a new business has virtually no chance of working, unless it is not dependent on anything controlled by the unions. I just wish Segolene and Sarkozy would come out and say it. May 68 was a big deal, and it changed a lot, and I just wish we had a May 07 to put the country back on track!
Jonathan Charnas, Portland, OR

I'd rather cast a white bulletin than vote for Royal... French people have a short memory: 14 years of socialism put France on its knees. S Royal was strongly promoting the European constitution and the French rejected it. Did they forget? Behind Ségolène Royal lie the old socialist schoolboys such as Fabius and Strauss-Kahn... If we choose socialism, it will be the definite death of France.
Isabelle Gellé, Hull, United Kingdom

People are shocked by Le Pen's rise compared to other European nations, but they are to be reminded that there is now a record number of BNP councils in this country, and they have more than doubled their share of the vote in percentage terms since the early 90s. Personally I feel that Ms Royal may not go through, no one seems sure enough of her ability; whereas Mr Sarkozy is a proven man, a safe pair of hands, and after the incredibly safe Mr Chirac, maybe this is what the French public want.
Stuart, Nottingham UK

The French seemed to be being offered a genuine choice - which is more than we get nowadays. But it's disturbing that some will cast their vote tactically. Our first-past-the-post system has the same effect, for different reasons. Shouldn't democracies have systems that encourage people to vote for who they really want? And if they don't, then who, if anyone, does the victor actually represent?
Mike Robbins, Norwich

The middle class will align themselves with the blue collar vote to elect "Sego", or the business class to elect "Sarko". The election will be won by the person who promises to protect the way of life of the middle class (at the expense of letting the bottom 10% ever finding employment or letting businesses grow). That person this time 'round is "Sego" who doesn't really know what she stands for. That's the way it's worked for 40 years, and it's not going to change...even though the economic model is unsustainable. The only variable is Le Pen ("Peno"???) beating "Sego" in round one because the left vote is fractured. But I think the French learnt their lesson last time on that front.
Rudy, Belgium

I have never understood the French acceptance of extremes in their elections. To me the Communist party is just as distasteful and extreme as the National Front and yet both ends of the spectrum have always received far more support than in any similar European country.
TP, Reading

Why this mental struggle on which way to vote? Having lived and worked in both state and private enterprises in France - here is a third party view: The 'near-retirement' French population is desperately struggling to retain the cradle-to-grave model just a little bit longer. In a recent poll 65% of parents aspired to ensure that children would be 'functionaires'. With these thoughts instilled deep in French hearts and no clear signals from any one of the candidates - its no wonder that 52% of voters haven't decided which way to vote. Many of this 52% vote 'contre' rather than for any proposed ideal - hence resulting in candidates like LE PEN gaining significant ground.
WQ, Paris, France

Nationalism is a reaction to Europe, Individuals fear that National Identity and the ability to govern our/their own countries are being stolen by an undemocratic and unelected European monster.
Nick Kowal, London, England

France is historicaly known to evolve by revolutions, usually every 50-75 years. I think one way to avoid it for the next years is to give S. Royal power. If Sarkozy wins it won't be long before there is "burnin' and lootin'" in the streets of France again.
Alexander, oslo, norway

This 2007 election will have less abstentions , you can feel in the streets and during this campaign that a lot more people are mobilized , the participation will be definetly higher than in 2002 , i don't expect Le Pen to figure the second round although he will make at least 13% IMHO . Nationalism is indeed raising in Europe , in the case of France , it also has to do with the diabolization of France by many Western medias and people after the refusal of this country to declare war to Iraq and invade them , it has strongly affected the French people , and it is also related to the failure of Europe to plan an united Defence and Foreign policy to oppose unilateralism with multilateralism . Many French now are disillusioned by Europe , its divisions , different aspirations and malfunctions , many want a mini-treaty and to come back to the roots of UE , the Franco-German couple and start building something strong from there with our closest friends .
Ianys, Paris , France

Vote utile/protest votes a good warning/alarm signal but can back fire. The Royale against Czar Cosy. One has a wish list the other a things to do list. The danger lingers in the 'partnership/coalition' to be decided after Sunday. A give and take to please egos/power and no longer the voters.
JKB German in France, Dun sur Auron/France

>>His line that at the time she was growing up "every French ironmonger >>sold a whip, rather like a small cat o' nine tails, for punishing >>naughty children," made me shiver.<< Of course. But if you live in France you will know that supermarkets - our local Carrefour, for instance - still sell them. Today they are presented as for training pets. But they haven't changed ...
Doug revell, Roquecor, France

I find it scary that nationalism is growing so fast in Europe. Apparently Europes population suffers some kind of amnesia since it cant remember what nationalism has done to people before. Nationalism is the most unrational answer to the challenges that Europe is facing. It is the solution used by people who feel insecure and transfers part of their identity to a grand country image, instead of facing the reality.
Mikkel Jensen, Copenhagen, Denmark

When the French endured the troubles of poor neighborhoods a while ago, a Turkish paper had a headline which read "Realite". The longer Europe and especially France wait to liberalize their economies and job markets the worse our economic prospects.
Laert Dogjani, Maastricht, NED (Albania)

To call "Action Francaise", the inter-war Monarchist party "fascist" is either complete ignorance or real bad faith from the journalist. There was a couple of small French movements that were indeed "fascist" but NOT Action Francaise. It was (and still is) typical from the Communist Party to call all its adversaries "fascist" (including General De Gaulle at one point).
Alexis, Kiev, Ukraine

The pretty little lady holding a poster I love Sarko has the DUTCH flag painted on her cheeks !!! No wonder she loves Sarko, she doesn't even where she is! I'm surprised that "New" Labour favours a "bonaparte" type candidate; british people should know better what that means.
Jean-Louis Feuz, Geneva - Switzerland

"The pretty little lady holding a poster I love Sarko has the DUTCH flag painted on her cheeks !!! No wonder she loves Sarko, she doesn't even where she is!" Wrote Jean-Louis Feuz, Geneva - Switzerland Er...that's a Serbian flag, the Dutch one has red on top...are you sure you're in Geneva J-L?
Rudy, Belgium

Beware of Ms Royal: she has been underestimated by her opponents in the past -- to their chagrin! Your correspondant asks why she hasn't seized on an issue yet? Answer: she has a difficult positioning, since she must win over the many leftists in France (who sunk the SP candidate in 2002) while modernising the same party's policies, i.e. make it far less leftist! My prediction? If she makes the second round, as I believe she will, she will gain real momentum in public opinion, since she will have defied all the pundits who feared Le Pen would repeat his sordid triumph of 2002. Come next Monday, Royal will be in an excellent position to move back to the centre, and that is when you will see opinion-swaying proposals from her. If I were French, I would vote Sarkozy, but it would be a huge mistake to underestimate one of the world's toughest and most attractive politicians!
Victor Val Dere, Paris, France

does anyone else feel that the image of segolene royale's legs is utterly sexist? how about the fact that they use her first name in this article and only the last names of the other candidates?? we must always be aware of such subtleties of the media.
l., nyc, usa

"does anyone else feel that the image of segolene royale's legs is utterly sexist?" No.
Bram, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I completely agree with you - BBC, shame on you! Please change the photo immediately. Utterly sexist and worthy of a formal complaint.
Lee, Bristol, UK

Two comments. Firstly, concerning the use of "Sego" and "Sarko". One could just as easily say "Sego" and "Nico". Royal has been subjected to veiled sexism throughout her campaign, and these little nuances do make a difference. As a French journalist put it, calling them Nicolas and Royal completely changes the power dynamic. Secondly, concerning the opinion poll scores of Le Pen. It is well known that voting intentions for Le Pen are under-reported as many voters are reluctant to admit to supporting him. As a result, pollsters have to adjust their scores to make them a more accurate reflection of true voting intentions. Their adjustments incorporate factors such as previous and estimated electoral performance. The fact that his polling scores are higher in 2007 than in 2002 is a reflection of this adjustment process and does not necessarily mean that he will perform better. Using more objective and robust estimates, academics have forecast his score to be in the re! gion of 17%.
RM, London, UK

I am shocked that you don't show the female candidate's face, but only her legs! Here is another example of unlevel playing field. And please, don't tell me that the person who chose the photographs did it "on accident". I am tirred of this, especially by a reputable News Agency.
Rachel Decor, Lyon, France

I rather thought that the point of the Royal image was not her legs but the adoring face of her acolyte, on the right of the picture, and the distance that was emphasised between them by the cropping of the image and its very tight framing. The text in the banner is presumably also important. I suppose that yes, it is sexist to call her by her first name and everyone else by their surname, but it would be hard not to take this picture without her legs in it - which i know, misses the original point a little, but i don't think the legs are the point!! Of course Royal has been subjected to the full gamut of the sexist French media-political class, but she's quite canny in the way she plays that herself.
Daniel Jewesbury, Belfast, Northern Ireland

I can't believe you have a picture of Segolene Royal's legs in your article! Why do you not show the whole person? How sexist!!! Would you ever only picture a male candidates trousers? I am truly dissapointed.
Illia Rosenthal, Rome, Italy

Excellent photo of Sergolene's legs, if she were electioneering around these parts, you might get a photo of her eyes. Possibly. Or, if the photographer wanted to risk a career - just possibly an ankle. Be grateful for press freedom in France and England. I'd vote for her........
Bill Harrigan, Tripoli, Libya

Surely the problem is that Segolene's surname is somewhat confusing in a discussion about who will lead a country that, historically, has not had much time for royalty. And, personally, I won't be unhappy if Le Pen's legs are kept out of media coverage.
Mark Howe, Cavaillon, France

'Sego' is Segolène's nickname, 'Sarko' for Sarkosy. This is how they are referred to by French people. So it's not putting Sego down to talk about her using her 1st name. The photo, however, is more debatable! I didn't mind it.
Carol, Bangalore, India

"how about the fact that they use her first name in this article and only the last names of the other candidates?? we must always be aware of such subtleties of the media." >>> In fact, I think the press is using what names are used by French people, just like Nicolas Sarkozy is "Sarko", Arlette Laguillier is "Arlette" and another outstanding socialist, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is "DSK". These are nicknames and have undoubtedly nothing to do with subtleties. Furthermore, "Royale" sends back to the Ancien Regime and her supporters would have had troubles being called Royalists, Segolenists was far better and I think that's why they chose to use Segolène instead. And it's also part of a strategy to look more genuine than standards politicians. When Le Pen or the Socialists use Mr Sarkozy's full name (Nicolas Sarközy de Naguy-Bosca) that is something worth noticing because it is an attempt at harming his campaign. Now using Segolène or even Sego, even if it sounds surprising or shocking to foreigners, is no big deal here in France.
Maeldan G., Hauts-de-Seine, France

The "Segolene" thing isn't an implicit sexism: it's just that "Sego" happens to rhyme well with "Sarko", so the main debate is framed as Sego v Sarko. So quit the conspiracy theories! It's an absolutely fascinating campaign for an Englishman to watch: whereas in England both Labour and the Tories say roughly the same thing and it's a case of who you think can project manage UK plc better, here in France there's a huge divide between the parties and their policies.
Jonathan, Paris, France

I thought the picture was of the woman in the crowd and her banner. Ms Royal's way of dressing certainly isn't accidental and I find the picture to be highly political emphasising that she is style over substance. I think that is fair comment, just as an animated Le Pen in the shadow of his ominous skin-head guard is fair comment. Overall this seems like vacuous personality politics.
Jim, London

"the image of segolene royale's legs is utterly sexist? how about the fact that they use her first name in this article and only the last names of the other candidates??" She is a woman, and chose to wear a skirt. Her legs comes up in a photo of a supporter at her feet. At least now we know that she does not eat too much fast food. About the first name issue, the competition is known in France and most of Europe as "Sarko vs Sego", nicknames taken from the most unusual parts of their names. Besides, "Royal" is probably not too appealing in a revolutionary republic.
Mattia, Munich, Germany

I had this feeling before I read the comments," Why on earth should BBC think that viewers were interested in Ms.Royal's legs?" Is BBC that CHEUVANISTIC? Remove the rather debasing photo and show her face as an appology.
Reverian, Tanzania

Are the ladies legs now suddenly more of an issue than her standpoints and public image? She profiles herself as a fresh wind among the "old men" that have dominated French politics for the last century. So a picture of her legs is a valid one. So, please I. from NYC, USA; keep that PC kneejerk in line!
Kaye, Arnhem, The Netherlands

Why are People so mistified that candidates like Le Pen are doing well in the better developed European Nations? Yes they are extreme and no i do not condone what they would do but they are riding the tide of Anti European Union sentiment that has been rising in "Developed" Europe since the union last took on less developed nations and therefore allowed them to flood across to the developed nations and saturate their economies. They do this because of the better prospects of work etc in the developed nations but it is having the same sort of effct that happened in west germany when the Berlin wall fell and the local populous are getting incresingly annoyed with leaders that are seemingly sitting back and doing nothing about it. If moderate government could negotiate changes to european policy that would put in place checks and balances before allowing people to move within it (lessened that for those outside the union but still some basic checks) and to include in these ways! to protect national identity (Such as insisting they learn the language of the country within a timescale of emmagrating to it) this would do allot to quell the appeal of the more extreme candidates arguments as there would be a moderate alternative.
Colin Webber, Reading

Explaining the French Elections to my daughters, 5 and 6 years old, is an interesting process. Everything has to be simplified. Segolene promises to help poor people. Sarkozy wants to stop naughty people coming to live in France. Le Pen wants to make everyone with black skin leave. So, your baby sitter has black skin, but she was born in France. Yes, Le Pen is naughty because he would tell her to leave. Sarkozy would let her stay because she is French. Sarkozy would tell all the naughty people to stop coming from Surinam and Brazil. Then there would be enough places for you to go to school. And there wouldn't be so many poor ones who steal because they haven't got any money. I guess, if I had a vote, it would be for Sarkozy, who seems to be the 'Margaret Thatcher' of French unions. (I'm just waiting for todays strike to hit, which will probably cut the water and electricity) But, regardless, my girls say they would vote for Segolene Royal. She's a pretty lady with and long hair. Then they'll go back to playing 'princesses' with their Barbies.
Sarah HUNT, Kourou, French Guiana

Who-ever takes over from Cherac, will remain handcuffed by the unions who are destroying France's economic progress. The Country will slither into the dark ages if it is allowed to continue with it's lazy part time work ethic. They certainly need a dose of maggie Thatcher medicine, Sarkosy might be able to find the KEY to the Unions handcuffs I hope he becomes President.
Brendan Buffini, St Reverend, Vendee France

Brendan Buffini, I hope for us (the french) you don't have the right to vote. If you think France needs Thatcher methods, why don't you just go to live in UK. It would be a good idea no?
Nicolas, Paris, France

As for the French presidential elections: I believe what France currently needs more than anything is economic reforms which are most likely to be introduced by M Sarkozy. The fact M Sarkozy admires the US and would strengthen transatlantic ties to the benefit of Britain, the Netherlands and a newly West-oriented German government is a great bonus that will strengthen both the West and the EU (which currently enjoys a majority of Atlanticist governments since the influx of Eastern European states). The single biggest threat to European integration in recent years has been Jacques Chirac's Gaullism (backed up with Gerhard Schroeder's love for Russia). It's good to see that removed. As Timothy Garton Ash has said: Europe trying to shape its identity by opposing the US stands only a very small chance of succeeding.
Erik, The Hague, Netherlands

France is such a lovely country, to visit, live in, work in, but twelve candidates like these???? A sad time for a great country. I don't have a vote, but if I did, I don't think any of them really stands up to the mark. Beyrou, could be a dark horse....but is he up to the level? Sarcozy said on Tuesday something about those who didn't like France can leave...a President with words like this??? I am not sure I would want to live in this type of regime..
Tony, Metz France

Name
Your E-mail address
Town & Country
Comments

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.





MARK MARDELL'S EUROPE DIARY

Mark Mardell Mardell's Euroblog
The Europe Diary is now a Euroblog - click here for the latest post


JANUARY-MARCH 2007
 

JULY-DECEMBER 2006
 

JANUARY-JUNE 2006
 

SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER 2005
 



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific