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French press review 3 May 2012

4 min

Who won last night's televised debate between the two survivors in the French presidential battle? It's hard to tell from the front pages of this morning's daily newspapers.

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"High tension" is the Le Figaro headline, over a photograph of François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy waving angry hands at one another as presenter David Pujadas attempts to restore order.

The righ-wing newspaper says we were treated to two visions of French society, and that the atmosphere was strained.

The Le Figaro editorial has no doubt that Sarkozy won the punch-up, criticising Hollande for his out-dated rhetoric and reducing his supporters to "the divided left".

Hollande's call for a return to the simplicity of taxation and redistribution no longer works, says Le Figaro. The socialist candidate is the man of the past.

It was left to Sarkozy to remind the socialists and all those who might still consider voting for Hollande, that the world has changed a lot since the left was last in power, all of ten years ago.

For Le Figaro, the left-wing contender is so lost in his vision of an out-dated model, he is incapable of imaging the future.

Business daily Les Echos agrees that the struggle was a tough one, but resists the temptation to say who came out on top.

Sarkozy tried to force Hollande to be specific about a platform criticised as approximate and ambiguous; Hollande tried to force Sarkozy to accept that his record over five years in power was anything but impressive, especially in the economic sector.

Leaving aside the division of responsibility between French leadership and the global crisis, the fact is that the latest economic indicators are all very bad for France.

Manufacturing activity is down, unemployment is up, French workers cost far more than the European average to employ.

The external trade deficit is getting so big, it'll soon have to be measured in light years as opposed to billions of euros. And it's becoming ever more difficult for France to borrow money cheaply.

Popular tabloid Aujourd'hui en France interviews a linguist who specialises in analysing the things we say to each other. For this expert, last night's debate was the most violent confrontation ever seen, marking a shift from normal political discourse to invective. At 2h50, incidentally, it was also the longest debate ever. Nearly 18 million people tuned in.

Expressions like "populism", "absurdity" and "total irresponsibility" popped up last night in the heat of a no-holds-barred contest. Hitler, DSK and Pontius Pilate were among the names exchanged, as the two men traded accusations of dishonesty, calomny, madness, incompetence.

The language expert says the tone was set by Sarkozy who attacked his opponent at every turn in an effort to destabilise him.

Only left-leaning, Sarko-hating Libération is ready to pronounce a front page verdict. "Hollande presides over the debate" is their frankly partisan analysis. Libé says that Sarko came out with some big punches, but that Hollande sent him reeling back to the ropes.

For Libération, the only serious question was whether Hollande would confirm his status as a potential head of state in the face of a muscular assault. He passed that test with honours, according to the left-wing paper.

In fact, says Libé, Hollande's technique of criticising Sarkozy's achievements over the past five years as a prelude to explaining his own propositions frequently wrong-footed the out-going president and certainly annoyed him.

Sarkozy, according to Libération's analysis, was frequently obliged to turn to the two television presenter/mediators and address his comments to them, simply because he could not deal with the unflinching stare of the man in front of him.

As for just who is in front of who, the most recent opinion poll had Hollande leading Sarkozy by eight points. We'll have to wait for this afternoon's Le Monde to see what impact, if any, last night's clash has had on voting intentions.

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