French unemployment has risen to 2.88 million, the largest number of unemployed since 1999. The unemployment rate rose to 9.3 percent. This is the eleventh consecutive months in which the unemployment rate increased. Although it could be worse, Spain’s unemployment rate is 24.4, the French jobs picture seems dire enough to ensure the defeat of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Nor is this the only bad economic news. French household spending fell by 2.9 percent in March from February. And the French economy is expected to grow by only 0.5 per cent this year, according to the latest International Monetary Fund forecast.
Sarkozy’s election prospects have also worsened because right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen, who finished a strong third in the first round of voting with 18 percent of the vote, apparently has decided that a victory by Socialist Francois Hollande would serve her interests better than Sarkozy’s re-election would. Reportedly, Le Pen hopes that, with the fall of Sarkozy, she will become the leading right-of-center alterative to the French Socialists. And Le Pen can reasonably expect that Hollande’s government will quickly become unpopular, given the economic climate.
It’s probably a pipe dream for Le Pen to see herself as the leading center-right alternative (at least I hope it is). But who can blame a politician for preferring a long-shot at eventual control of the government to short-term control of a ministry or two, promised by a rival who is unlikely to win in any event.
As for Sarkozy, he must now win perhaps 75 percent of Le Pen’s vote without the support of Le Pen. And he must still win some of the centrist vote that went to fifth place finisher Francois Bayrou, who captured 9 percent of the vote in the first round. The rhetoric needed to appeal to the Le Pen bloc is, of course, likely to suppress centrist support.
But this is detail. Sarkozy finds himself in this hole due to the state of the French economy.