France’s two remaining presidential contenders met Wednesday night for a harsh debate that most observers suggest will not change the dynamics of the race. President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party Challenger Francois Hollande accused each other of arrogance and lying while laying out different visions for addressing the economic crisis.Hollande argued that it was time to turn economic policy towards growth and away from austerity. He promised stimulus and targeted policies aimed at addressing youth unemployment. He also accused the incumbent president of “blaming everyone else” for the anemic economy. For his part, Sarkozy attacked excess regulation and France’s 35 hour work week.Â He added that the Socialist Party had no serious plan to address the deficit or improve competitiveness. He said France would resemble Greece and Spain under Mr. Hollande’s policies. “Talk about yourself, talk about your own politics,” responded Hollande.
Sarkozy also played up his role in addressing the European economic crisis. “Did you think it was easy, Mr Hollande,” he asked rhetorically. He went on to take credit for helping to save the euro and halting European catastrophe. Hollande pushed back saying that Sarkozy had allowed Germany to dominate EU budget policy. “You achieved nothing,” he said. He also renewed his pledge to renegotiate the European Budget Treaty.
Mr. Hollande attempted to connect Sarkozy’s economic policies with protecting the ultra rich at the expense of France’s youth. “I protect the children of the republic, and you, you protect the most privileged,” he said. The Socialist candidate went on to say that Sarkozy had shifted the tax burden from the rich to the poor, a charge the president rejected. “The difference between us is that you want fewer rich and I want fewer poor,” he told Hollande. “Your spending craze” would only increase the budget deficit he added.
Trailing in opinion polls just days before the election, President Sarkozy was hoping for an election altering debate performance. Most analysts scored the debate as even and predicted that it would not change many voters minds.