As in many election campaigns, foreign policy is not one of the French public’s main interests.
When the two finalists have mentioned it, foreign policy has been discussed in an economic context.
The way other countries have been doing things was held up as an example.
President Sarkozy, self-declared co-guardian of a new EU budget discipline pact, with fellow conservative Chancellor Merkel of Germany, generally stuck to the line: ‘may laxity serve as a lesson to us all’.
He said: “Is there anyone in France who’d wish to go through what others are going through – Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Iceland?!”
Yet even Sarkozy, later in his campaign, allowed that perhaps spending might be used to stimulate growth.
His socialist competitor François Hollande said that as soon as he got into office he would renegotiate the eurozone discipline pact to encourage growth.
He said: “Our Europe can be the lever and the solution if it does not condemn itself to austerity, which is the direction chosen by the outgoing candidate – with the chancellor of Germany.
Sarkozy – if re-elected – would seek to revise the Schengen accords to tighten Europe’s external border control. He said excessive immigration was a danger.
On France’s involvement in Afghanistan, the presidential candidates agree. They want out. They only differ on when. Hollande wants to bring the troops home faster, by the end of this year. Sarkozy, coordinating with the United States, would do it for the end of next year.
On the killing in Syria, Sarkozy has ruled out stepping in militarily; he does not advocate an international force such as he did for the Libya conflict. He supports setting up humanitarian corridors. Hollande is not advocating armed action against the Assad regime either. He supports the Annan plan.
Sarkozy’s numerous appearances on the international scene during his five years in office give him a profile more immediately associated with foreign policy, even if it is not exploited in campaigning.
As for Hollande’s lack of experience, his supporters point out that Barack Obama was less experienced when he was elected to the White House.
For an expert non-French view from the ground,
euronews spoke to Charles Bremner, the Paris correspondent for British newspaper The Times.
Didier Burnod, euronews: You’ve been following French politics for many years, have covered several presidential elections, and in 2007 found the campaigning by Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy fascinating. What are your general impressions in 2012?
Charles Bremner, Europe Editor of The Times: Well, 2012 is a very different vintage, with not a lot of hype or sparkle, not a lot of direction either. The themes have been quite confusing. We had the outgoing candidate, as Mr Hollande has put it, who changed his main theme almost every week, and on the other hand François Hollande, who was consistent but without much passion or energy.
euronews: It’s also a campaign that hasn’t given much space to big international subjects. It’s a bit of a paradox for a country that claims a leadership role in Europe and the world. How has the absence of these subjects been perceived abroad?
Bremner: Without being too critical, seen from the outside we get the impression that the campaign ducked the real problems facing France at the moment, which is to say economic and euro problems.
euronews: And that’s with one of the candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy, the outgoing president, having taken an active part in managing the euro zone crisis. On the other hand, François Hollande has no equivalent experience, and yet Sarkozy hasn’t made use of this asset. Why not, do you think?
Bremner: He used it at the beginning of the campaign. He talked a lot about the German model, if you recall. But he quickly let that drop when he saw it wasn’t working. He didn’t want to rub the French the wrong way, so he preferred other themes, slightly nationalist, and themes that aren’t really a source of daily worry for the French, things like halal meat, for instance, or immigration.
euronews: A survey came out this week that showed that nearly three-quarters of French people questioned think Sarkozy is more qualified to influence Europe. Is this still valid outside France’s borders?
Bremner: I believe so, at least we know Nicolas Sarkozy; we know he’s a strong leader, and very energetic, and he’s had five years’ experience at the wheel of the French ship. We don’t know François Hollande. As you know, there’s a lack of experience, so he’s an unknown, so we’d prefer to imagine Sarkozy continuing.
euronews: And today, just days from round two voting, this image hasn’t changed?
Bremner: The image has become a bit clearer, as we’ve all written our portrait pieces, and done interviews and explained where he comes from, his origins and ideology, but he himself hasn’t said what exactly he wants to do. That’s one of the things that is rather worrying France’s partners in Europe.
euronews: Foreign media, the international press, have almost been ignored by both candidates. As correspondent of a British daily newspaper, how has that been for you, and what’s your explanation for it?
Bremner: When the campaign started, François Hollande was very open. He saw us two or three times, notably for a breakfast where he spoke off the record but raised plenty of ideas. But for the past few weeks, no. Both sides held us off. Sarkozy has never been very open with the foreign media and he’s given very, very few interviews since he arrived in power in 2007.