President Nicolas Sarkozy pulled ahead of his Socialist rival for the first time in France’s election race yesterday, according to a poll held after the right-winger took a strident anti-EU turn.
The survey forecast that Sarkozy would lead in the first round but still lose out to Francois Hollande in the second, but it was a symbolic boost for the leader who has trailed his rival for the past five months.
“It’s true that it’s better when things are going well,” Sarkozy told reporters when asked about the poll.
“Nothing is finished. I campaigned before, I will campaign after... Let each say what he will do for the next five years and the French will decide,” he said.
The president, who had campaigned as the self-styled saviour of Europe’s single currency, thrilled the cheering crowd with a surprise new eurosceptic stance.
In a tub-thumping speech, he threatened to pull France out of Europe’s 26-nation passport-free travel zone (the Schengen Area) unless the EU does more to keep out illegal immigrants.
And he demanded the EU adopt measures to fight cheap imports, warning that France may pass a unilateral “Buy French” law.
Sarkozy’s spokeswoman said there was “panic” among Socialists after the Ifop poll said Sarkozy would win 28.5% of the vote in the first round in April, against 27% for Hollande.
Hollande, who has never held a ministerial post and whose ex-partner Ségolène Royal lost to Sarkozy in 2007, is on course to win the second round in May with 54.5% against Sarkozy’s 45.5%, the poll said.
“It’s a turning point... but a nuanced turning point,” said Frederic Dabi of Ifop.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, meanwhile, secured the backing of enough local government officials to run in the presidential election.
Although polls put Le Pen in third place in the presidential race, there was speculation that few mayors or regional councillors wanted to associate themselves with her campaign.
Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, repeatedly claimed in the past that he was struggling to garner the signatures necessary to stand for the presidency, but was able to do so at every presidential election since 1988.
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