The Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 25, 2012)
French presidential race to decide European crisis
仏大統領選 欧州危機の行方を占う決戦へ(4月24日付・読売社説)

No winner was chosen in the first round of voting in the French presidential election. Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, former first secretary of the French Socialist Party, will now battle it out in a runoff election on May 6.

In Sunday's election, 10 candidates ran for the presidency. Hollande led with about 29 percent of the vote, while conservative Sarkozy settled for second place with about 27 percent.

According to the latest opinion polls, Hollande will defeat his rival in the runoff by about 10 percentage points. Sarkozy's reelection is in danger.

The biggest campaign issue is economic policy. Since the jobless rate has reached 10 percent in France, voters are focusing their attention on an economic growth policy to expand job opportunities, rather than fiscal rehabilitation.

Results of the runoff election could strongly influence the future of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, which is still unresolved. The judgment French voters hand down will have a very grave import on whether the eurozone crisis can be contained.


Criticism against austerity

Member countries of the European Union last year agreed to support a new treaty that obliges them to balance their budgets.

Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel played central roles in securing the agreements.

However, Hollande wants the treaty to be renegotiated, reflecting growing criticism within the country over austerity measures.

In the first round of the French election, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, came in third place. Le Pen believes France should leave the eurozone. In the election campaign she expressed opposition to the EU treaty, which calls on member countries to enhance fiscal discipline.

Hollande will move closer to victory in the runoff if he succeeds in attracting the votes of people who supported Le Pen.

If he wins, Hollande will not be able to avoid friction with the German government, and the main pillars of the countermeasures taken against the fiscal crisis, which have been led by Germany and France, will be shaken.

The debt crisis in Greece has been contained for the time being, but uneasiness over Spain's credit is smoldering and business is experiencing a downturn in Europe. Austerity measures are unpopular in any country because they lead to a reduction of civil servants and an increase in the age of pension eligibility.


Future of nuclear power

We are concerned the fiscal crisis might reignite and the global economy may be negatively affected if France, the second-largest economy in the eurozone, changes course.

Japan also is interested in the future of France's energy policy.

Nuclear power was expected to be a campaign issue after Hollande initially pledged to reduce nuclear power generation, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of electricity production in France, to 50 percent by 2025.

However, after criticism that this policy would lead to a decrease in job opportunities, Hollande stopped voicing this pledge loudly.

We wonder if the basic policy of France, a country powered mainly by nuclear plants, will remain unchanged.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 24, 2012)
(2012年4月24日01時26分  読売新聞)