A polling station in Strasbourg
4:03am UK, Sunday May 06, 2012
France is going to the polls today in a run-off vote that could result in the country’s first socialist government in more than two decades.
Socialist leader Francois Hollande is the favourite to win though recent days have seen his rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy, clawing back some ground.
Final polls showed the 57-year-old conservative leader, an aggressive campaigner, cutting Mr Hollande’s lead to just four points from around 10 a few weeks ago.
If Mr Sarkozy loses, he will become the first French president since Valery Giscard d’Estaing in 1981 not to win a second term.
Many voters blame him for high unemployment, which is at a 12-year record of nearly 10%, and also for France’s stagnant economy.
The two rivals fought a bitter campaign culminating in a heated TV debate in which each accused the other of lying.
In a fierce battle of personalities, Mr Hollande has made a virtue of being the antithesis of the abrasive president of ‘bling’.
A self-styled Mr Normal, Mr Hollande has been criticised for being too much a ‘man of the people’ and not presidential enough to preside over an increasingly tumultuous France.
He has countered such claims by saying that the last socialist president, Francois Mitterand, was only regarded as presidential when he took office and the same rule can be applied to him.
The prospect of an Hollande victory had sent jitters through European markets prompted by his pledge to raise taxes for the rich and amend the German-inspired fiscal pact for austerity in Europe.
However, French 10-year bond yields slipped below 2.9% on Friday – their lowest level since October – suggesting there is no panic about Hollande.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government appeared more comfortable with the prospect of an Hollande government after he clarified that he would not seek to change the core of the fiscal stability pact signed by 25 EU leaders last month.
Both Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy have pledged to balance France’s books and reduce debt to 3% of GDP by next year, each offer differing methods.
Mr Hollande has promised savings of 100bn euros by taxing high earners, big companies and banks and implementing spending cuts.
Mr Sarkozy proposes savings of 115bn euros: 75bn euros in spending cuts and 40bn euros in higher taxes.