Both French presidential
candidates' camps proclaimed victory Thursday after a fiery, combative TV debate
that was the only face-to-face encounter between conservative Nicolas Sarkozy
and Socialist Segolene Royal in the run-up to Sunday's vote.
Sarkozy has the lead in polls. Royal, in a last-ditch effort to win over the
centrist voters on whom the election hinges, went on the offensive during the
debate Wednesday night, criticizing Sarkozy's record and repeatedly interrupting
him. Sarkozy kept his cool.
Sarkozy, a former interior minister, said Thursday he thought the debate was
dignified, though he found Royal too combative.
"I was a bit astonished at times by a certain aggressiveness in Madame
Royal," he said on RTL radio.
Royal, a former environment minister, defended her tough style, telling
France-Inter radio on Thursday morning, "You can never go too much on the
offensive when it comes to defending convictions and values."
During their bitter election campaign, the Socialist has sought to portray
her conservative rival as too unstable and too brutal to lead the nuclear-armed
nation. Sarkozy's camp, meanwhile, says Royal's ideas are fuzzy and that she
does not have the experience to lead France.
Centrist leader Francois Bayrou, who finished a strong third place in the
first round of voting April 22 and whose nearly 7 million middleground voters
are crucial to Sunday's outcome, said after the debate that he wouldn't vote for
"There's a risk he will worsen the rifts in society," Bayrou said, according
to Le Monde.
Bayrou did not say whether he would vote for Royal or abstain in the runoff,
but said Royal did "pretty well" in the debate.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Socialist leader of the National Assembly, said Royal
showed "authority, dynamism and the modernity of a great president" in the
debate. Sarkozy's spokespeople, Xavier Bertrand and Rachida Dati, said he was
"much more precise and showed a much greater mastery of the issues, and of
The two candidates disagreed on how to get France's sluggish economy working
again, on whether Turkey should join the European Union, on how to safeguard
French pensions and on whether taxes should be cut.
One big point of contention was France's 35-hour work week _ a landmark
reform for Socialists, but decried by business leaders as a crippling brake on
Sarkozy wants to get around the 35-hour week by making overtime tax-free to
encourage people to work more. He described the shortened work week as a
"monumental error," and noted that no other country in Europe had followed
Royal defended the move as a form of social progress and asked why, if it was
so opposed, the government in which Sarkozy served had not got rid of the
Sarkozy and Royal were the last two candidates standing after the April 22
first round of voting in which Sarkozy won 31.2 percent and Royal had 25.9
percent, with 10 rival candidates across the political spectrum knocked out of