Regional elections in France pose a test for Sarkozy

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Regional elections in France pose a test for Sarkozy

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France is voting in the first round of regional elections that observers say may mean heavy losses for the governing centre-right UMP party.

Nicolas Sarkozy has already cast his vote in Paris, in a poll likely to be taken as a verdict on his Presidency so far.

His opposite number, Socialist leader Martine Aubry, has also voted in her home city of Lille.

Abstention may be as much as 50 percent, but nonetheless, the message the vote sends will be closely watched outside France.

It may affect the pace of reform and the future of key government ministers.

There are almost 2000 council seats up for grabs in the 26 regional councils.

They have a range of responsibilities, from maintaining school buildings to local transport, but have little economic power.

The Socialists control 20 of the 22 mainland regions
after a triumphant campaign at the last round in 2004 and are hoping for a similar success this time.

But the Greens could also play a significant role.

They’re hoping to maintain their surprise showing in last year’s European elections, and are already laying claim to several regional vice-presidencies.