Bayrou feels third time lucky

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Bayrou feels third time lucky

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The French presidential election takes place this 22 April and 6 May. Who will be in the Elysee Palace after the second round?

Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking re-election. Among the contenders, François Bayrou does not plan to make it easy for him.

Beyrou is the MoDem centrist party candidate, a man known for his warm manner and political courage. In spite of the defection of friends to the camp of the incumbent, Bayrou refuses to give way, in the space left between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande he can perhaps be a king-maker.

Euronews journalist Pierre Assemat accompanied him for a day on the campaign trail. Here is his report:

François Bayrou believes ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’. The MoDem (Democratic Movement) party leader – centrist – is campaigning for the French presidency for the third time. He knows the ropes. His acolytes say he is a realistic idealist.

In Haute Vienne, central France, Bayrou found himself in farm country. He is from Bordères, in the western Pyrenees region, a farmer himself, and son of a farmer, who raised horses. He does not label himself a man-of-the-land candidate, but explained what he was doing in Haute Vienne.

Bayrou told us: “It’s to talk in real terms about what’s involved for people who raise livestock, the agro-economic constraints, breeding, everything about the agricultural trade. It is both to show recognition and to assure them that they’ll at least be listened to in the future – and understood.”

Bayrou came third in France’s presidential election in 2007. He made it as far as the second round, no further. It cleared the way. From the previous UDF party, MoDem was born, in opposition to then new President Nicolas Sarkozy. Bayrou took up a position as the alternative. He slams the bipolarity of French political debate. His battle cry is ‘Production in France’.

The MoDem candidate projects a paternalist, reassuring character. He encourages openness and bringing people together. This is a weakness as well as a strength, since it has given the appearance of different centrist forces as spread out. For 10 years, Bayrou has not shifted from his political message a single millimetre. Some hold this against him, saying he is only thinking about personal ambition.

Some opinion polls predict he could win against Sarkozy or the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in the second round of voting. The classically educated Bayrou, a former teacher, is convinced he will end up president.

At the start of our interview, Bayrou was asked to recite a passage from memory. He chose Peguy:
“Le long du coteau courbe et des nobles vallées
Les châteaux sont semés comme des reposoirs,
Et dans la majesté des matins et des soirs
La Loire et ses vassaux s’en vont par ces allées.”

(‘Along the curved slopes and noble valleys
Castles are sown like altars,
And in the majesty of the mornings and the evenings
The Loire and its vassals flee down their alleys.’)

Pierre Assémat, euronews: “Is your ‘professor switch’ always ‘on’?”

Bayrou: “It’s love of beauty, not ‘professor’. I always try to explain things. I think it’s a civic duty to teach. I think we need to let people understand the situation of the country as precisely as the so-called experts. No one does it. To me it’s crucial. But I’m not giving lessons.”

euronews: “You say reducing this race to just Sarkozy and Hollande is wrong. How do you fit in?”

Bayrou: “Well, so far it’s actually idol-worship of Sarkozy and Hollande. We get the impression that’s all there is. No matter what radio news programme you turn on, you’ll hear ‘Nicolas Sarkozy said this’ and ‘François Hollande answered that’, or the other way around. But that’s just a passing moment in the campaign, until they notice that people are fed up. The backlash will be as violent as the attempt to impose round two before having the first round.”

euronews: “Is your message getting across to the French people?”

Bayrou: “A presidential election is less about ‘message’ than it is about the messenger. It’s about who he or she is. ‘Can I – for once – trust someone?’”

euronews: “I’ll just ask you then: who are you?”

Bayrou: “Well, I’m someone, with his family, who has come from a humble level of French society, from farmers and workers, someone who made his way by getting an education and thanks to democracy – who fought without ever giving up, who saw with clear vision from when he first got involved – and whose vocation it is to rebuild, and gather together the greatest possible number of French people.”

euronews: “Last year you wrote a book putting your finger on something very important: the national debt.”

Bayrou: “We can climb out of that, I think, in two or three years. But it’s going to need us to keep at it for two or three years. It’s like a family that is over-indebted. It also requires that we rebuild what we’ve lost, which is to say a country that produces, a country that makes things, as it must do, in order to become a country that sells, that earns market share in the world, and that’s not easy after entire sectors of industry have been allowed to slip away.”