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Opinion: It's Time to Get Serious in France

Deutsche Welle's Anke Hagedorn says that Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal now need to focus on the issues rather than appearances before they square off again in the race for the French presidency on May 6.

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The French have decided: Sego and Sarko, as Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy are often referred to, will re-enter the race for the French presidency. It's a result that's not surprising and the French are now hopeful that a serious debate will take place until the second round of voting.

That's also desirable from a German point of view, because maybe it would make it easier for us to understand what to think of the two candidates when it comes to European policy and the Franco-German relationship.

Anke Hagedorn

Anke Hagedorn

The election campaign so far has been a slick one -- there was no overriding issue that really stuck. It's a far cry from the last presidential elections five years ago, when one topic, domestic safety, dominated. This time the candidates sounded off on a whole range of issues and staged an equal number of gimmicky appearances, hoping to pull in voters.

Clad in jeans and sunglasses, Sarkozy in the end presented himself as a mixture of cowboy and white knight, sitting on a white horse. His message: I take charge, but I've got my feet firmly on the ground and am also a nature-lover.

Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, who portrayed himself as a farmer and father of six children and who had not been taken seriously by anyone at the beginning, eventually finished with a respectable result.

Earlier, Sarkozy enjoyed alternating between the role of savior of the nation and sacrificial lamb. One day he flirted with trade unions while courting employers on the next. He openly tried to woo right-extremist voters of the Front National with proposals such as expelling all illegals in France and founding a ministry for immigration and national identity.

He did not tolerate competitors, be it among political adversaries or within his own ranks. Everyone, who stood in his way, was brushed aside without mercy. Editors in chief had to hand in resignations for negative coverage of Sarkozy. He threatened Azouz Begag, until recently minister for equal opportunities, because the latter had allegedly not been loyal.

It's a bad omen when one thinks about what this man could do when he actually commands power.

Usually dressed in a white business suit and wearing a glowing smile, Segolene Royal on the other hand presented herself as the new Jeanne d'Arc. She developed a new kind of communication tactic for the campaign, so-called participatory democracy. She stood in the middle of an audience and made people believe that she was listening to them.

The only problem was it didn't work. She usually seemed uptight and not ready for dialogue. Few managed to get to ask questions and many didn't get any answers. It quickly led people to become disenchanted after a sky-rocketing start to the campaign.

Francois Bayrou hit the nail on the head when he talked about the dilemma of the voters. "Everyone's uncertain," he said. "Some, because they know where Sarkozy would lead them and others, because they do not know where Royal would take them."

One can only hope that both candidates realize before May 6 that voters expect more than a superficial exchange of words. They want concrete solutions, because there's a lot of work to do in the Grande Nation, which has lost a lot of greatness in recent times -- especially when it comes to the economy.

France has the highest unemployment rate within the euro zone, one of the lowest economic growth rates and a record trade deficit. It'll take more than a white horse or a white business suit to fix that.

Anke Hagedorn covers the French presidential elections for DW-RADIO (win).

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