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French press review 23 February 2012

Is the gap between Hollande and Sarkozy in the French presidential race narrowing? Are there any reasons for the French to be cheerful? And what's the connection between Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a bucket of month-old oyster stew in a heatwave?

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In the French presidential battle, the gap between the two leading contenders, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, has been reduced to just a single point.

According to the latest opinion poll, published in this morning's right wing Le Figaro, Hollande is still leading with 28 per cent of voting intentions in the first round, but Sarkozy has made enormous strides and is now just slightly adrift, with 27 per cent of those questioned saying they'll vote for the outgoing president on 22 April.

Opinion polls are notoriously unreliable but this latest result does at least confirm that the presidential race is already a two-horse affair.

The other serious contenders, Marine Le Pen of the far6right National Front, and the centrist François Bayrou, seem to have settled down at between 13 and 18 per cent of first round votes depending on who's asking the question.

Nearly 60 per cent of those questioned say they are in no doubt about their first round intentions, meaning that there are still a lot of undecided voters out there.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Le Figaro believes that Sarkozy's clear statements on immigration and the need for a competitive French industrial sector have made the difference.

The right-wing paper says Hollande's main problem is his inability to stick to his guns. Le Figaro accuses Hollande of changing his policy on the future of the French nuclear industry, on taxation reform, on finance, on public-sector employment, on the retirement age, on euthanasia. It all depends on who he's talking to.

Le Figaro goes on to criticise Hollande, unfairly, for this week's failure by Socialist deputies to vote on the question of the European Stability Mechanism, the fund intended to save Europe from itself the next time Greece runs out of ready cash.

The Socialists couldn't decide whether the proposed mechanism is the best way out of a bad situation or the worst way of making that situation totally chaotic or something else entirely, so all but 20 of them went to the toilet at the moment of the vote. A party spokesperson tried to suggest that the mass exodus was, in fact, an example of "positive abstention", a dynamic act of bravery rather than a low scurrying for the exits.

Catholic La Croix has been taking a worldwide look at national attitudes to the crisis. Not surprisingly, the French are world leaders in the pessimism stakes, with 79 per cent of Nicolas Sarkozy's loyal subjects saying they think France is in deep crisis.

Asked the same question, only 35 per cent of the Chinese are worried about the future, but a majority of Hu Jintao's countrymen believe that they have the resources to put things right. The French come bottom of the optimistic class as well, with just 29 per cent believing that France is well placed to compete at the global level.

Dossier: The Strauss-Kahn affair rocks France, IMF

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is back on several front pages, following his 32-hour face-to-face with the police in the northern French city of Lille. The case is about as savoury as a bucket of month-old oyster stew in a heatwave, allegedly involving call girls and allegedly involving public money to pay for them.

Whatever the legal outcome, and DSK has a meeting with a judge next month which could result in his being obliged to stand trial, the whole sorry tale of a bunch of old farts acting like adolescents makes sad reading, especially when you think that the chief old fart, DSK himself, was once a serious contender for the job of French president.

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