French downgrade timing is dire for Sarkozy

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French downgrade timing is dire for Sarkozy

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Three months from a presidential election, France’s credit rating downgrade is the last thing Nicolas Sarkozy needs.

But as his prime minister Francois Fillon acknowledged, the move was not a big surprise.

“This decision was expected even though we can judge it the wrong moment in terms of efforts being undertaken by the eurozone, efforts, which, for that matter, are starting to be recognised by investors,” said Fillon.

Tipped to succeed conservative Sarkozy, his Socialist challenger put the blame firmly at the president’s door and suggested that he could do better. Francois Hollande said that Sarkozy’s politics and not France had been downgraded.

“Our country still has considerable assets, a dynamic demography, high productivity, recognised expertise, quality public services and lots of savings. Our country can recover,” Hollande said.

Some fear bitter exchanges over the downgrade signal discourteous political debate in the weeks to come.

“It will obviously influence the electoral campaign. It will….generate attitudes that are not very correct,” said one woman on a Paris street.

As for the economic impact, another passer-by in the capital said she was not especially worried.

“We already knew that French borrowing costs were at a higher rate than for the Germans…so we will have to redouble our efforts,” she said.

President Sarkozy may have to do just that. Already second place in opinion polls, the downgrade is a body blow to his as yet undeclared bid for re-election.