By Ray Fleming

NICOLAS Sarkozy probably won on points but did not deliver the knock-out blow he needed to take the lead from Francois Hollande in Wednesday night's three hour TV debate for the French Presidency. Both sides are saying that the outcome of Sunday's final voting is “too close to call”. The debate was often bad-tempered with the word “liar” frequently in use; Sarkozy was the more aggressive and better briefed but Hollande stuck to his campaign image of being a “normal” man even when Sarkozy said that great presidents like de Gaulle, Pompidou and Mitterand were not “normal”. Hollande opened with a commitment to “justice, recovery, unity” and made several promises for economic growth and expansion of public services. Sarkozy ignored what he called “empty formulas” and tried to show, item by item, the flaws in his opponent's policies, questioning strongly the feasibility of his undertaking to balance the French budget in five years.

Despite excellent English interpretation the TV debate was hard to follow since the contenders were often speaking at the same time. My impression, however, was that Sarkozy did not make enough of Hollande's inexperience in other than French provincial politics and his total unfamiliarity with the European Union scene.

In the end, though, issues such as immigration, unemployment and welfare may prove to be more important to voters who think them safer in Hollande's socialist hands.

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