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Europe diary: A real debate

3 May 2007

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell on the delight of an election with a real clash of ideas, role reversal in the televised debate, and the odd couple of Segolene Royal and partner Francois Hollande.

The diary is published every Thursday. To see the latest edition, please click here.


The French election has been a delight to cover so far because there's a real debate about ideas, rather than the process in Britain which has seen 15 years of Labour stealing Conservative clothes and the Conservatives trying to steal them back again.

Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy

But we did see an example of political cross dressing in the big debate. I don't mean that Nicolas Sarkozy turned up in a white dress or that Madame Royal wore a tie - although she did wear a dark suit for the first time during this campaign rather than what a colleague calls her "nurse's outfit".

It was temperament rather than trousers that were swapped.

Segolene Royal's campaign has seemed a bit wet at times, with a recent rally ending with the statement that her project was "you" because "I love you".

Would-be supporters I spoke to before the debate wanted to know she had the steel to attack, the drive to be president. And here she was on the attack, aggressive, interrupting Mr Sarkozy, even (it seemed, at one stage) losing her temper.

Nicolas Sarkozy knew he had to do the opposite job and live down his reputation for brutal political aggression. He was calm, polite, even questioning with a pained expression why Madame Royal wouldn't listen to different ideas and treated people with disdain.

There were no knock-out blows but it will be interesting to see if the next opinion poll shows any movement.


When does the personal get political? In France, very rarely.

Although there are strict privacy laws, the fines for infringing them are not that big and they wouldn't deter a really determined newspaper or broadcaster. But the French media acquiesce, whether through agreement or fear it's hard to say.

I have some sympathy. The British press is intrusive enough to put anyone sane off going into public life.

Natural guilt about this prying makes it even worse because it leaves the media looking for an excuse. So instead of a gossipy "Bet you didn't know so-and-so was seeing such-and-such... fascinating, eh?" we get, "So-and-so was doing such-and-such... what an outrage! They must be sacked/apologise/publicly pilloried!"


But it's difficult not to be fascinated by the relationship between the Socialist candidate in the French elections and the general secretary of the Socialist Party, or to argue that it doesn't have political consequences.

Francois Hollande and Segolene Royal
Francois Hollande's chance may come
They hardly seem to be on speaking terms. The latest disagreement was over the Bayrou debate: he said it couldn't happen, she said it could. It reminds me a bit of the first election I covered close up: when the two Davids of the SDP, David Owen and David Steel, toured Britain by bus, often pumping out slightly different messages.

I was on the Owen bus and all the news lines came from phoning one's colleague on the other bus and comparing notes.

But what adds spice to the disagreements between Segolene Royal and Francois Hollande is that they have been together as a couple for over a quarter of a century. They have four children aged from early teens to early twenties.

I suppose there are several possibilities. It could be a cynical double act: he talks to the left, she to the centre and they both gamble that the French media won't savage them for their differences.

They could have established such unnaturally brutal Chinese walls that they don't talk strategic politics at home.

Or maybe they really don't talk much.

I thought the broken partnership of Gordon and Tony was unbeatable for rancour, but maybe it would be worse if they had brought up four kids together.


It must be difficult being Hollande. Although he and Royal have both had stratospheric careers, most of their friends always assumed he would be the one to reach they very top.

Did the televised debate sway many French voters?

I must admit, when Segolene was selected I thought the Socialists had made the right choice from a strategic point of view. Avoiding one of the elephants, as the French call the heavyweight male socialists, looked like common sense.

She looked and sounded different and so symbolised a change. She may still win, but she doesn't sparkle. People vote for her with a clear head and calculation, not because they're wowed by her charisma.

Hollande on the other hand is supposed to be very amusing company. With a twinkle in his eye, he reminds me a little of the late John Smith, another cheerful, jovial man secure enough about his own intelligence not to have to show off.

For the saddest of reasons, Smith was never tested in high office. But for Hollande perhaps there will be another time.


Will Mr Sarkozy provoke "pillar collapse" in the European Union? Despite the ominous sounding phrase "pillar collapse" is backed by those who want a stronger and more active European Union. It simplifies the legal basis for the EU and arguably gives the European Commission more power.

I wrote a while back that Nicolas Sarkozy might be more ambitious in European policy than suits Mr B (a handy short form for whoever occupies Downing Street over the next couple of years).

Sarkozy was the first to come up with the idea of a "mini-treaty" to replace the constitution rejected in the French and Dutch referendums, and that is exactly what Downing Street thinks it can sell to the British public without a referendum.

But recently a senior British diplomat was slapped down by a Sarkozy aide for using the term. They now say the idea of a "revising treaty" is just a start. Mr Sarkozy is likely to be an enthusiast for the idea of an EU foreign minister, and getting rid of the veto in about 50 areas, just as the constitution promised.


Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are, I'm told, working very closely on the issue and talk regularly. If there is a separate Brown position he's not telling even the civil servants who are most closely involved.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
New salesman: If the deal is unsellable, it will remain unsellable
In fact, Brown's team just want to keep schtum on Europe, so his hands are lily white whatever deal is done.

Most people think Blair will do a deal, take the hit, and leave Gordon in the clear. But I'm not convinced this would work. If the deal is unsellable, it would remain unsellable even by a new salesman.

But there must be a real chance that at the June summit Blair refuses to sign up to something that would bind his successor. It would be a neat, if cynical, way of kicking the ball just a little further into the long grass.

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

Up until now I've always been keen for Segolene to win - the idea of Sarkozy as president is a skin-crawlingly horrifying prospect. But last night she stated that for education in the country to improve she would introduce compulsory schooling for children from the age of three!! Good grief - the children here have a hard enough time as it is with long hours (8.45 - 4.30 for primary school children) and hefty homework (learning by heart and reciting 30 lines of La Fontaine at age seven anyone?) right from the age of six. Completely unrealistic and potentially damaging to children's emotional and physical welfare. And that's just one policy... Conclusion: we're up a certain creek without a certain implement whichever way it goes. I think it's time for us to move back to Britain.
Lucy-Jane, Brittany, France

Sarkozy or Royal? Well I already bet on Sarkozy. It's not that I don't like some Royal ideas (or her as a woman), but there is a need for a change in global politics (in present and future) and she is not so good outside France. France is heavily involved in my country, and I think she doesn't even know where my country is. She is talking only about French "things", like we don't exist, so she does not deserve to succeed...Long live France!
Luciano, NM, La Slovenie

It is all too apparent that Royal dominated the debate: Sarkozy was all too often against the ropes. Now if you don't want to see it, too bad. The choice is between having more teachers or more policemen. Up to you, French people! But if you think that more policemen will solve the law and order problem, you delude yourself!!!
Enrique Ferro, Brussels, Belgium

From the beginning I knew I was going to vote for Mme Royal, as a "vote utile". At first I was not completely sure of her personality, whether she was sufficiently "hard" to be president. I think she showed how determined she was to apply her ideas during the debate. For my part, I don't consider Sarkozy dangerous for his economic ideology (it is certainly very liberal/American-style, and necessary to have such persons in a democracy), but rather for his tendency to mix up youth, immigration, insecurity, fear and religion. This is not acceptable in our country.
Antoine, Compiegne, France

Aggressiveness in a debate involves tricks that make the opponent look foolish. No organised public debate I have ever seen allows people to mutter audibly while one person is talking. Certainly any claim the French ever had to manners has gone out the window. I still cannot believe the moderators did not simply say, Mr Sarkozy, only the ill-raised show their contempt for the other speaker as you are doing by this persistent muttering.
Jeffrey Lewis, Frankfort, Kentucky

I am a Brit living and working in France. It is plain to me that France cannot continue to pay itself more than its people are earning on their 35 hour week. Everyone here I have spoken to would like to be able to work longer hours if they could, though not under duress. This principle of personal economic freedom seems to be addressed only by "Sarko".
Steven Jordan, France

After reading these comments from all over the world, it's very interesting that so many people should feel concerned by the French elections. However, I do feel sorry about all these foreigners who are living, working, paying taxes, having children, buying houses in France and even retire here, in other words fully participating in the French system, these people are denied the right to vote in this country, and I really truly can't see why. They should be able to have their say just like any other French citizen.
Natalie ,Toulouse, Toulouse, France

The 17% nuclear energy does in fact correspond to the TOTAL energy consumed in France.. Sarkozy's "50%" was completely made up. For all you so impressed by Sarkozy's numbers and figures, who among you actually knows them? And wasn't the discussion about whether or not it's necessary to develop alternative sources of energy? Politics is numbers but ideas too. What? That's why it's not Segolene who seems naive, but Sarkozy and his age-old 'magic of collective irresponsibility saving everything' rhetoric. Is that what modernity and work ethic mean in France? Empty rhetoric and empty numbers.
Lewis, Lyon, France

Ms Royal didn't convince that there is money for her policies other than bankrupting France.
Artur de Freitas, Johannesburg, South Africa

As someone has already mentioned, Sego is behind in the polls and needed to "score some goals" in this debate. She therefore attacked relentlessly, and when that failed tried the angry/emotional approach to unsettle Sarko. It didn't work, and his efficient defending of policies with succinct phrases and more facts meant he didn't lose. The fact he held his ground (and started ahead) means he effectively won. If you don't believe me, look at the pools that are being published this morning...his lead has slightly improved.
Rudy, Belgium

Royal used old socio-communist rhetoric to please her left wing electorate... can she really think that the economic reforms France needs can be achieved by giving the upper-hand to the unions? A British friend of mine once told me the story of the UK and its unions before Margaret Thatcher, and I am frightened to realise that the longer the socialist thinking will rule the harder the awakening will be for my country.... Let's hope Mr Sarkozy wins and acts as he promises to do.
Nicolas Narti, London

Being a woman and knowing what" blind capitalism" has brought to my own country,(Mexico) I wish Mrs. Royal becomes the next president of France and makes the changes she proposes, so as to establish a better relationship with emerging societies.
Nati Bolanos, Mexico city

Sarkozy's body language spoke volumes. He kept on rubbing one of his eyes and the side of his nose. He could not wait for the debate to be over. Well done Mme Royal
Lee, Paris, France

Segolene has been accused of not giving clear policies in stark contrast to Sarkozy's frankness. Although I can certainly understand this point of view, in my opinion Sarkozy is frighteningly black & white on many issues in a way which doesn't reflect real political life and democracy.
Emily, University of Durham, UK

Sarkozy will win, thank god, Royal has no firm policy, a lot of talk & aggression, gets facts wrong, she has no idea how to run an economy, she really believes the rest of Europe will change their tax and labour laws to make the same mistakes as France has for ages, jobs will go to countries who want to work, taxes are low & people feel free from government interference. To bring France into the modern reality of a global economy will be painful, yet if France waits any longer she will not only be broke, but there will be nothing left to sell. The sooner the left in France learn to think like Social Democrats, and takes a centre position there is a small chance they might keep some of the good things they have enjoyed; acting like old fashioned Soviets and also right wing Fascists only spell doom and destruction.
Charles, Cannes

I tried to listen carefully to what both candidates had to say and hope I succeeded. From some of the comments above, however, I get the impression that - on both sides - viewers metaphorically switch off whenever the opposition starts to be precise - and both candidates were precise quite a lot of the time. Hence accusations of wooliness, refusal to answer questions, etc. I would put it differently: wool in the ears and refusal to listen to answers.
Tony Ferney, Vincennes (Paris region)

I wonder why Ms Royal did not put the accent of "participative democracy" (which would have justified the fuzziness of her figures) as opposed to the "elective monarchy" instituted by de Gaulle and which Mr Sarkozy represents.
john s, Brussels Belgium

It's not about who stays calm and who doesn't. I think Segolene showed that she had better intentions, she cared more about the poor and the disadvantaged. Sarkozy showed that he is more firm, and a better debater. Basically, each held their position: a woman from the left and a man from the right. My opinion is that, with the current state of World affair, we don't want another conservative head of state. W and Nijad are quite enough!
TE, Egyptian in US

Why was foreign policy not included when this is a major element of a President's powers? Sarko is a huge friend of America - and has all but apologised for France going against Bush's line in Iraq. He also -last night- slammed the door shut on Turkey joining the EU. This was ridiculous and pandering to Le Pen racists and religious bigots. The EU was set up as a vehicle through which differences that had caused two world wars could be overcome. It has helped transition previous dictatorships (Portugal and Spain) and transform them into thriving modern democracies. It promises to do so for the former communist bloc states in Eastern Europe. Kicking Turkey out of any hope of joining the EU sends a clear message that the EU is a Christian union, and will not include any other religions. In days of terrorist strive where religious bigots kill each other and make the world unsafe for our children - we should pull Turkey into the EU family and help them to be the next democratic success story. Sarko's policy (announced last night in the middle of this debate) is a recipe for disaster in Middle East affairs
Mac Boisset, Bristol

Segolene Royal gets to face the camera but Sarkozy only have 3/4 of the camera. Do you really think that turning your head to face the camera when answering questions would look natural when you are debating to someone who is in front of you? Anyway, I wouldn't vote for Royal if I can because her agenda is "Discussions avec des Partenaires Sociaux" which basically means only talks and no actions plus additional taxes to pay - which she by the way did not emphasise how much
Genevieve, London

Clearly I'm not the only one to be pleasantly surprised at Mme Royal's display of nerve in the face of M. Sarkozy who, at times, showed his 'brutal' side which his cuddly election campaign has worked hard to cover over. At the same time, what Mme Royal said still reflects her campaign as a whole; a bit shaky in places and unconvincing at times. If I were French, I'd vote with my heart for Mme Royal but with my head for M. Sarkozy as I think he genuinely would pull France out of the economic doldrums it finds itself in.
Peter, Cardiff, UK

For the record, "Sego" and "Francois" have not really been together for quite a while and each has other "love (?) interest(s)". And latest reports are that "Mrs Sarko" has left home. So either candidate would be a lonely President... As with many viewers (thank you Arte.tv) I felt Sego waffled a lot while Sarko knew the facts and figures. I also think all this future discussion with "les partenaires sociaux" is a recipe for disaster as it is notoriously difficult to get them to agree on any reform (the name of the game being defending "les acquis")and in any case, someone has to try and lead the discussion in some sort of direction - which was completely lacking in Sego's answers. Her fluffiness over tax policy, the 35-hour week and retirement finances (another CSG??? puhlease!) also are scary. Sarko did on the other hand, seem to lack the "height" (pardon the pun) that a De Gaulle would have had, but at least he was giving what seemed like answers based on facts and coherent thinking, and what's more, that were to the point. Overall though I think a draw - Bayrou's voters who were originally from the left will probably vote left (based on social policies), those from the right, right (based on economics)...
PG, London, UK

I believe that Madame Royal has proven her inability to run a country. She first stated ridiculous ideas such as the one where she said that all female policemen should be accompanied back home from work every night to avoid being sexually attacked. Furthermore, we can see how easily she lost her temper which is not the greatest quality for a president. It seemed that she was so insecure about her own political ideas and how to get them across that she had to keep verbally aggressing Mr Sarkozy. In my opinion i think the debate last night clearly showed who would be the most capable person to run a nation like France.
Anthon, Spain

Madame Royal is too much like Tony Blair and the current UK government and Monsieur Sarkozy is too much like Margaret Thatcher and the conservatives of the past. I do not think either will be good for France but Sarkozy, well if shove comes to push so be it.
Paul Doxey, Tamworth Staffs England

We need more women at the centre of the decision making table. Not any women, but those with leadership qualities. There are lots of women out there who can manage the roles effectively and Royal is certainly one of them. Allez Royal...Bon Chance!
Christine , Gulu, Uganda

Fundamentally alarming to see that Marie has made it this far - how can France seriously contemplate this sort of standard in a Presidential campaign?
Louise, London

From the excerpts of the debate I read, it appears to be that Madam Royal is clear of her facts and figures and does not know the repercussions of her policies. France need to have a sustainable socialism and not become a welfare state. In that respect my vote will have to go to Mr. Sarkozy.
Sourav, USA

I listened to the debate online and one thing that really struck me was how Royal brought up the nuclear issue with completely wrong figures. She said numerous times that only 17% of France's energy is nuclear. One of the French news website corrector her (and Sarkozy who said half) by stating that 78% was the real figure. If the issue had been brought up by Sarkozy and she hadn't been ready would have been one thing but to bring up the issue and state and completely wrong figure....If that's how she's preparing for her presidency I hope she never wins.
Ben, Columbus, USA

I heard a comment from a Mauritian who used to follow the French election who sums up the scenario: Sarkozy the do-er (whether you like it or not); Royale the talker (a crowd-pleaser and changes her answer when it varies from one audience to another). This election is all about Sarkozy...you either vote for him or vote for the other.
HS, Singapore

In follow-up to my earlier message, I didn't congratulate Sarko for his eloquent discourse, with knowledge at his fingertips, and he was more than generous with his gentlemanly parting comments despite his brutally attacking adversary's extremely strong words against him. Thank you, Sarko, for generously allowing Sego the extra time for her uncalled-for retaliatory remarks! You were the hero last night.
Catherine Soo Sim Browne, Crassier, Vaud, Switzerland

I think many people have confused anger with passion when it comes to some of Segolene Royal's reactions in last night's debate. Its about time politics mirrored reality and we moved away from the boring 'ancien regime'
A, London

Perhaps Sego can come with me to my bank and explain how I am going to get all the things I need without paying for them? Are the French really so stupid as to deny that their economy is a basket case? Or that promising more jobs to the 40% of the working population already employed by the state is not going to solve anything?
Stuart, Annecy, France

I am French and have been living in the UK for the last seven years. Like many expats, I've followed the campaign of both candidates with a lot of interest if not passion. I thought Segolene Royal was rude and inconsistent: she could not answer a simple question, she kept interrupting Nicolas Sarkozy even when it was his turn to speak and she needs to do more in-depth research on the topics she's talking about. Simply put, how can you trust someone who's going to introduce new taxes but cannot say how much it's going to cost, how much profit it will bring in...etc? It's our money, not hers.
I Lim, Surbiton, UK

interesting debate but our support bends a bit to Mr Sarkozy. there is something special in his debate, so much attractive and eye catching one. His approach of defending is impressive and persuadable. Meki, Ethiopia
chimdessa and Yami, Meki

I am really disappointed in the French and their support of Sarkozy, a dangerous character who, although a smart politician (thus his mass appeal) is a violent underhanded politician who hasn't made any positive changes during his years in the government. As for those who state that Royal "lost her cool" during the debate, I wouldn't call her intensity a case for instability. Furthermore, fans of Sarkozy who point this out might want to check the record concerning their own candidate, it's easily apparent who the unstable and outlandish one is. I'll cross my fingers for Royal otherwise a few months down the road we're in for an awful lot of strikes here in France.
M. Hayes, Le Breuil, France

Mr Sarkozy was the clear winner in this latest debate. He had the courage to express clear principles like excluding Turkey from Europe as a fundamental geographic principle. This is even more true when you consider that the tiny European portion of Turkey was taken by force from the Greeks.
Paul , Montreal, Canada

Segolene Royals policies sound more like Hugo Chavez than anyone else. The only way she will be able to pay for her "Project" is to milk every movement of capital in the country. No doubt she will eventually re-nationalize French companies in the interest of "Economic Justice" If she is elected it is a sad, sad day for France
CA Grimm, Antibes, France

I have lived and worked in France for 18 years having set up my own business and created employment for 15 people. I have the right to vote for the local mayor but do not have the right to vote for the president! When I first started to pay attention to Sarkozy 2 or 3 years ago I said to my French wife "that man will/should be the next president of France with his clear thinking ideas" I have not changed my opinion of him now. Like him or not he at least has a perfectly clear vision of what he thinks and where he wants to go. He has not pandered to the political puppets on either side of him ( at least not to any great extent as far as normal political manoeuvring goes) and he has retained his dignity and respect throughout the campaign. I was particularly struck by his last words in the debate when he declared his respect for Royal and her ideas. Royal on the other hand could barely hold back her contempt. The Socialists have lost a golden opportunity to put forward a good , clear and coherent programme, instead it is the same old pat on the head to the French people "now don't you worry or think about a thing , we will look after you" As Alain Juppé famously said " the introduction of the 35 hour week was the greatest folly of the twentieth century" . I have yet to meet a Frenchman or woman who has anything good to say about the 35 hour week. The choice is not particularly appetising on either side but after last night I believe Sarkozy will carry the day.
Chris , Calais France

I just think that SR was way too aggressive and lost what made her different up to yesterday : her difference with NS. Being in a "legitimous anger" as she said, was even more pathetic, when I heard on the radio this morning that what she accused NS of was completely wrong (the question of disabled pupils). I gave my vote to Mr Bayrou on the 'first round', and will vote for NS as he gave possible solutions to the problems France is facing at the moment although SR is remaining in the French left boring way of making politics (bla, bla, bla until you forget what the original question was all about)... ENOUGH IS ENOUGH... Looking forward to a new political party with fresh ideas and fresh politicians... until then for me it is NS
NPV, Paris

Whilst Madame Royal stridently forced her voice to the front of the debate, everyone remarking at her aggressive approach, it served its purpose in hiding the fact that she had nothing to offer. We heard what is now almost her catch phrases, I think, I believe and I said, yet noticeably never what I will do and how. The few proposals offered were clouded by suggestions of endless discussions, which if no solution was found then nothing would done. Monsieur Sarkozy, may not please every body but at least its clear what he proposes and how he intends to carry out his ideas. I watch the contest with interest living in France yet unable to vote. In my opinion its not a contest of two concepts rather one wanting change the other preferring let things remain as they are.
Dennis, France

I find it rather hard to believe that no one else speaks of the atrocities committed by this wine sipping little George Bush other than Mme Royal, calling for him to take responsibility for them. I was elated to see her ability to send this Stalin wannabe sniffing inside his shirt pocket for an answer that wasn't even there. My fear is however, that the French people are being duped into a rather grave situation in believing that this man can help them in some way. I would only suggest that they take a long, hard look at what has happened in the States the last few years before they go and vote for someone who wants such a close relationship with those criminals over there.
Jim Benton, Graissessac, France

Mr. Sarkozy's reserved cool kind of scares me. It is never difficult to see a man, whose temper is clearly evident. Trying to act calm in the face of attack, is faking. And if I were French, I would not trust that, more like the big bad wolf and little red riding hood! You never know the malice behind that calm composure. Madame Royal may have overdone the aggressiveness but she did well to expose that her rival will do whatever it takes and fake it to get where he wants. I think its time for France to get a female president. The world needs motherly figures instead of little old men, gun and power crazy, who are intent on bringing war to other's doorsteps and who get angry when criticized. Just look at the current crop of male leaders, look at where we are (suffering), and the suffering they have brought. Like it or not, women are less likely to become dictators, they are less likely to enjoy war, and they are less likely to just bomb another nation without giving scant thought to the three-year olds and innocents in their so called enemies. Men can, will do, and don't give a hoot, as long as they maintain the power, the aura and the status.
K. Chikwanda, Harare, Zimbabwe

I am currently watching the debate on the tf1 website. I think for the first part Royal is just summarising what we and the French already knew but I do not believe that Sarkozy looks unsure. Royal however does think that the public service in France is of quality. Being in France for 7 years - I have an experience with the public service specially as a company owner. There are 3 institutions of which are URSSAF, RSI and Organic and these three already asks too much money and as a small company, I am penalised. Even if I have moved to the UK I still pay French taxes and I still owe these 3 institutions thousands of euros. What the small French companies pay for is for all the RMI beneficiaries, the public workers who live free in public housing, those don't work, and for the debts of Credit Lyonnais. How can she promise increase on the RMI or CAF allowances? Where will she get the money? What type of job she propose to the young? and How? I find Royal's answers not concrete, just promises. How can she blame Sarkozy for the lack when it is her party the socialist blocking many things in the government? Negotiations as we saw in the past do not always work. It is wishful thinking for Royal that reform will work even agreed. Does Royal even know why big companies change their HQ? Well, if she didn't the it is because she doesn't read. Big corporations save millions of Euros just by changing their HQ to another country than France. Sarkozy's solution which is giving more freedom to work sound much better and will not encourage laziness. France will become a third world country when Royal become president.
Genevieve, London

Nathalie is entirely right that the French don't want major change. They're sick of all these pro-Anglo-Saxon arguments about how they have to renovate their system, but which really just mean that France must no longer defend its values. The fact is that Royal is right that there is an awful lot that most people in France want to see protected against the kind of reforms Sarkozy would bring in. And it is simply not true, those few of you who have written that Royal was not precise with her figures. She gave a LOT of very precise information about how her plan would work economically. And look at Sarkozy's complete lack of precision on certain dossiers, the environment in particular, which is hardly a minor issue nowadays.. Consider also the way that Sarkozy's connections allow him to control significant portions of the French media even. His entourage succeeded in preventing the Royal-Bayrou debate being broadcast on the normal 6 French TV channels, and very nearly prevented it taking place at all. Not surprising for a man who is personal friends with Laguardere, the French equivalent of Rupert Murdoch! (Indeed, in the past, Sarkozy has even succeeded in getting specific journalists fired by merely insisting on it to Laguardere). What kind of France would it be if this kind of character became President? This is one of the questions that many French people are asking themselves right now.
David, Paris, France

Usman, the "honest" side of Sarkozy is a decoy. You clearly haven't followed the recent events in his political career to say he is honest. Sarkozy's strengths in such a debate are that he is well spoken, clear, concise, straight to the point, and very convincing. The trouble is that he manipulates every situation to turn it round to his advantage, as we saw yesterday when he played victim when he felt he was in trouble. Royal, on the other hand, makes convoluted sentences that fail to go straight to the point and which confuse the audience. That's unfortunate for her, because the values and content of her policies are by far the fairest and most human. But a lot of people only follow politics through television, so you can't afford to be a bad speaker in front of the camera, even with the best policies in the world.
Yann, Glasgow, UK

I am following very closely the French elections and as many millions did yesterday night i was watching the televised debate between the two candidates. My first reaction concerns the total absence of the journalists during the debate; there was absolutely no challenge from the interviewers to the contenders. Secondly i was shocked by the aggressiveness of Ms Royal toward Mr Sarkozy while her opinions lacked any substance and any precision. She did not commit on any issue, constantly saying that if elected she would discuss all the important maters with the social partners; It's outraging. Imagine a President who goes on lengthy discussions for every subject without having an opinion of his own. Third, I was struck by Mr. Sarkozy's calm and self assurance. He had a specific solution to every problem, his reasoning always backed by data and facts. He has a very clear vision of where he wants to lead France to in the coming 5 years and did commit on a number of sensitive issues. Finally I found it extremely bizarre that the contenders for the presidency of a nuclear power and a permanent member of the security council did not take time to discuss issues of international politics except 5 minutes to debate about Europe and fewer minutes to talk about Iran and Darfur! What about north Korea, the transatlantic relationship, Iraq, the Middle East and so on?
Freddy Zraick, Beirut-LebanonI get tired of the female/male comparison. We are dealing with that "issue" now that Hillary Clinton is running for president. Experience, ideas, heart, and an ability to work the government should be the deciding factors. The French have a tough choice. The seemingly heartless Sarkozy or the overly compassionate Royal. How about a Sarkroy?
Paget, San Francisco, California

To Nathalie, London. I think you misread what I wrote: I didn't say the French 'wanted' major change, I said it was what was 'needed'. Of course you'll protest in the streets, but that's par for the course. Only Sarko will have the courage to make the necessary changes.
Bella, London

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