European campaigning in France takes a bitter twist. Francois Bayrou, whose centrist party is battling for third place against the European ecologists, has swapped insults with Green flag-bearer Daniel Cohn-Bendit. It is uncertain how French voters will react when called to the ballot box this Sunday.
Sparks erupted in a televised debate when Bayrou accused Cohn-Bendit of being too chummy with France’s right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy. The accuser ran for the presidency in 2007. In response, Cohn-Bendit said: “Playing this kind of game in front of the people… let me tell you, mate: You will never be president, because you’re too pathetic.” Bayrou was unrelenting, and shot back: “I’m not sure you can use the word disgraceful… I find it ignoble to have pushed and justified acts, with regard to children, that I cannot accept.” This was a veiled reference to a controversial 1975 book about experiences as a nursery school teacher on a radical commune in Germany. Cohn-Bendit later, on a path into politics, defended himself with vigour, successfully. The leader of the French Socialists, Martine Aubry, disapproved of the tone of the televised debate. Surveys suggest her party will win some 20 percent of the vote on Sunday. A senior centre-right candidate called Bayrou’s “attack” rather poor. Sarkozy’s UMP is tipped to get around a quarter of the votes. The debate anchor said the idea was to encourage turnout, but she wasn’t sure it would. Pollsters have been predicting near 60 percent voter abstention.