France’s presidential rivals clash over debt fears
François Hollande tells Nicolas Sarkozy to stop scaring markets, while both men offer little detail about cutting state spending
Fears of a renewed eurozone crisis and France’s spiralling public debt are overshadowing the presidential race, with the Socialist frontrunner François Hollande accusing Nicolas Sarkozy of trying to scare the markets to secure re-election.
With just over a week to go until the first round of voting presidential candidates are at each other’s throats over which of them would drive the country to financial ruin. As markets get jittery over Spain and Italy, economists have warned that France could be the next economic basket case to shake the euro.
The eurozone’s second-largest economy, with generous welfare and one of the highest levels of public spending in western Europe, has been told by its national auditor it risks an unsustainable debt spiral. Unemployment is at a 12-year high of almost 10%, growth is stalling, the triple A credit rating has been downgraded and the country owes so much that interest repayments are the second biggest item of state expenditure after education.
In a country where voters do not want to sacrifice social welfare to the altar of austerity, analysts warn none of the main candidates are going far enough to slash spending. The French social model, with its wide-ranging benefits, remains paramount. In France, the word austerity is a political taboo and there has not been a balanced budget since 1974.
Pictured: François Hollande addresses a rally. Economists warn that France could be next in shaking the euro. Photograph: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images