French election campaigning gets underway
By Honor Mahony
France's official election campaign started on Monday (9 April) two weeks ahead of the first round of voting and with 12 candidates in the race.
With the centre-right Jacques Chirac stepping down after a 12-year reign as president, the country is in high election fever and is being watched with interest around the world.
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Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right candidate, continues to top the polls followed by socialist contender Segolene Royal and centrist candidate Francois Bayrou.
Mr Bayrou entered the election late but has spiced up the race being considered a bit of a 'dark horse' at the beginning but quickly shooting up the polls to third place.
According to the latest LH2 survey reported in Le Nouvel Observateur, Mr Sarkozy has dropped one percentage point to 28 percent, Ms Royal has lost two percentage points and is clocking in at 24 percent while Mr Bayrou remains at 18 percent.
Far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, meanwhile, has gone up in the polls from 13 to 15 percent.
Other candidates for the 22 April first round include Olivier Besancenot from the communist revolutionary league, Jose Bove, the anti-globalisation farmer, Frederic Nihous from the hunting, fishing, nature and traditions party and Dominique Voynet from the Greens.
Election officials are recording record numbers of people registering to vote, but the vote is expected to go to the 6 May second round as none of the candidates is expected to get more than 50 percent in the first round.
France's elections will also have profound implications for Europe and its attempts to revive talks on internal institutional reform, with the topic until very recently being taboo at political level since the EU constitution was rejected by French voters in May 2005.
All three leading candidates have a different approach towards what to do with the moribund document.
Mr Sarkozy wants a pared down treaty that can be approved by national parliaments only, while Ms Royal and Mr Bayrou - who also favours a slimmer treaty - both want a referendum.
Another referendum in France would likely force other countries hoping to avoid a popular poll on the issue - notably the UK - into having one.
Meanwhile, Mr Sarkozy and Ms Royal, in particular, have raised eyebrows in Brussels by going in for some Europe bashing, accusing the EU of supporting untrammelled free marketism and criticising the single currency.
Both candidates have indicated that Europe is not doing enough for its people and have had words about the European Central Bank.
Mr Sarkozy wants the ECB to weaken the euro to make exports more competitive while Ms Royal wants the bank to change its focus to supporting the creation of more jobs.