It is time for a weekly look at the French presidential race.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy faces a clear uphill fight, although in some public opinion polls he has closed the gap between himself and Francois Hollande on the first ballot, to a point that they are neck and neck. This is a minor comfort, as he still trails his rival by 12% on the 2nd ballot.
Under the French system, the first round ( providing that it doesn't get out of hand as in 2002 when the left self-destructed) serves as a primary for both the right and the left, following which the two major blocs circle the wagons for the runoff.
One reason Sarkozy is trailing is the pervasive pessimism in French society. This was captured by a poll by the French Institute for Public Opinion (IFOP) published in the newspaper La Croix. The poll showed that 44% of the French feel the economic crisis "enough" and 40% feel it a "great deal".
The poll was taken in a comparative context with the Americans, Russians, Chinese and Germans. The French display the most unease and blame their situation on previous governments. When asked if their country was competitive in the modern world, only 32% of the Frenchman believed that France was competitive - as opposed to 61% of the Germans and 65% of the Chinese. Only 39% in France believe that they have been prepared for the new global situation as compared with 54% in Germany and 87% in China.
It is this sentiment that Hollande is appealing to, while ridiculing Sarkozy as one of "those who have done nothing during 5 years and then wake up saying I have an idea… Well it is high time.
Sarkozy is trying to drive a wedge between workers and welfare recipients. He has asked for a referendum that will make the unemployed accept work offers and he is extolling a "France that works".
In what Hollande has denounced as "magic stunts and trickery", the president has promised to raise salaries by lowering social charges on the employer. He is also trying to parry the notion that he is the candidate of the rich, promising a law that will ban extravagant bonuses and other perks.
Sarkozy is attempting to it repeat his success in 2007, in competing with Marine Le Pen for voters on the right while keeping some distance from her to avoid scaring off the political center. Le Pen supplied him with an opening, when she charged that the meat consumed in Paris was slaughtered using Moslem Halal laws. Sarkozy was happy to correct her by reporting that only 2% of the meat fell into that category.