16 Feb 2012

‘The French just want to see the back of Sarkozy’

As Nicolas Sarkozy formally declares his bid for a second term as French president, political commentator Agnes Poirier tells Channel 4 News his time may be up.

'The French just want to see the back of Sarkozy' (Getty)

Nicolas Sarkozy must perform something of a popularity back-flip if he is to retain the French presidency in May.

Opinion polls show chief rival Francois Hollande has a 15 point advantage, yet the president’s camp is confident he can narrow the gap before the first round on 22 April.

If he were to stage such a comeback, it would be the first of its kind in France. He begins his mission with the first rally of his presidential campaign later today.

“It hasn’t happened ever, no. If you look at the Fifth Republic,” French political commentator Agnes Poirier told Channel 4 News.

“But the guy is an incredible campaigner and his ability to bounce back is formidable.”

Mr Sarkozy announced his intention to stand during a TV address on Wednesday night.

Both guys’ hands are tied when it comes to the eurozone, because Germany is calling the shots. Agnes Poirier

“Now the real campaign starts,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, a close Sarkozy ally, told France Info radio earlier in the day.

Mr Sarkozy, who began tweeting for the first time shortly before the announcement, hopes to present himself as an experienced leader who can drag France out of the economic slump and overcome the eurozone crisis alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But Poirier said it is unlikely his relations with the German leader will win him votes.

“In terms of Sarkozy’s close ties with Merkel, well he did the same with Obama and Blair.”

Nocolas Sarkozy on Twitter.

So would Hollande, the Socialist challenger, fare better on the eurozone?

“Both guys’ hands are tied when it comes to the eurozone, because Germany is calling the shots.

“So the difference is in style rather than policy.”

Sarkozy and Hollande both say their priority is to restore public finances and whoever becomes the next president will have to push through roughly 100 billion euros of austerity measures in the next five years to plug the state deficit.

With unemployment stuck at a 12-year high and a stream of news about companies closing or relocating production abroad, Sarkozy – who took office in 2007 pledging a return to full employment – faces an uphill struggle convincing voters he can get the economy back on track.

“The economy dominates but more importantly the French just want to see the back of Sarkozy,” said Poirier.

“Libya did not do much for his popularity. And he has had some erratic policies, such as wanting to privatise things – being a Thatcherite, really.”

“Hollande is less of a free marketeer than Sarkozy. He is on the centre-left and thinks regulation is a good thing.

“But all in all he is about the same in terms of the City. After all, capitalism is what he lives in too.”