In a wide-ranging interview with FRANCE 24 and RFI on Thursday, Socialist presidential front-runner François Hollande said he was pleased with his performance in Wednesday’s debate and criticised the divisiveness of the Sarkozy administration.
A day after locking horns with incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a heated televised debate, Socialist candidate François Hollande told FRANCE 24 and RFI on Thursday he was satisfied with his performance.
"I think the debate unfolded as I hoped it would," said Hollande, who admitted to having the jitters beforehand, particularly because there were "high expectations and a considerable number of viewers”.
A ferocious debater, Sarkozy had pushed for more than one face-off against the Socialist challenger to the French presidency, a challenge Hollande declined, making Wednesday’s debate the only one between the two candidates in 2012 French presidential race.
The much-awaited verbal contest saw the two men trade barbs in the course of an almost three-hour long exchange on issues ranging from economic policies to immigration.
By Thursday, French media had declared the debate a draw, denying Sarkozy, who has been lagging in the polls, a much-needed campaign boost.
Speaking to FRANCE 24’s Roselyne Febvre and RFI’s Frédéric Rivière, Hollande elaborated on a theme he introduced at the start of Wednesday’s debate, maintaining that Sarkozy’s five-year presidential term had been marked by “a lot of divisions”.
Hollande also spoke in detail about international affairs, although his foreign policy positions on issues such as the Iranian nuclear programme, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were not radically different from current French foreign policy.
Restoring French prestige internationally
But he was especially critical of the image of France that he says Sarkozy has conveyed to the international community.
"There were statements, postures, attitudes, choices that have hurt our country and sometimes caused trouble internationally,” he said referring to a controversial July 2007 speech by Sarkozy, called the “Dakar speech for Africa” which was meant to signal a change in France’s controversial relations with its former African colonies, but was widely criticised for being patronizing at best, condescending at worst.
Hollande also stressed the need to restore “the prestige of French identity” and to "increase the attractiveness of our language and our culture."
On the issue of Europe and the eurozone crisis, Hollande reiterated his opposition to the January EU agreement for new and tougher measures to enforce budget discipline in the euro zone.
He also stressed his desire to rely on Europe’s "borrowing capacity” to revive the crisis-hit euro zone.
Asked about his priorities for France, Hollande cited education and economy before going on to defend his proposal to add 60,000 new civil service jobs in the education sector - a plan that has been ridiculed by his rival who has maintained that France has a bloated civil service.
Finally, Hollande said he expects "a grace period, like in every presidential election," but he added that the duration of this period would depend on the policy measures that will be put in place.