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France

Sarkozy hopes eurozone deal will boost flagging popularity

Reuters/TF1 Television

French President Nicolas Sarkozy shocked world media with a statement that Greece should not have been allowed to join the euro in a television interview Thursday evening. But in France, where 11.9 million people watched the broadcast, minds are concentrated on his efforts to salvage his chances of being reelected.

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Sarkozy’s message was “it’s me or the crisis”, according to the French press Friday but he was on the defensive on the economy, admitting that the government has lowered its 2012 growth forecast from 1.75 per cent to one per cent.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

And there will soon be more measures to make up a budget shortfall of six to eight billion euros, he said, although he ruled out a rise in VAT because it would reduce purchasing power.

With an opinion poll last week showing him at 36 per cent compared to Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande’s 64 per cent, Sarkozy tried to grab a little glory from Thursday’s eurozone deal.

"If the euro had exploded last night, all of Europe would have exploded," he said. “If Greece had defaulted, there would have been a domino effect carrying everyone away. If there had not been an agreement last night, it was not just Europe that would have sunk into catastrophe, it was the whole world."

Unlike Hollande, who was selected in this month’s Socialist Party primary election, the president is not yet officially a candidate in next year's presidential election. In Thursday’s broadcast he said “the debate … will be settled” at the end of January or early February, although economist and presidential adviser Alain Minc on Friday scoffed that “everybody knows he is a candidate, it’s a debate of no interest”.

In British and American media the Sarkozy headline was his statement that Greece was not ready to join the euro at the time that it did, because its figures were fiddled.

Taking care to point out that he was not in power at the time, Sarkozy declared, “"Let's be clear, it was a mistake."

Reactions to the interview followed predictable party lines:

  • For the Socialists, Hollande on Friday insisted that Sarkozy might raise VAT by stealth and judged the interview “facile packaging to justify a failed presidential term”;
  • Green party leader Cécile Duflot compared the president to a “racked record”, trying to “convince himself that he was the best president”;
  • Ex-minister and Christian Democrat Party leader Christine Boutin wanted to know why the 35-hour working week had not been abolished;
  • François Copé, the general secretary of Sarkozy’s UMP party, indicated that the government will try to enforce cuts in local authority spending.
     

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