Royal takes on rivals in first French TV debate

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The Independent Online

French politics took on an American tinge last night when the three candidates for the Socialist party "nomination" for next year's presidential elections appeared in a live television debate.

The 100-minute stylised confrontation between Ségolène Royal, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Laurent Fabius, was the first of its kind in French political history.

Mme Royal, the favourite to capture the Socialist "nomination" when party members vote on 16 November, looked nervous and over-rehearsed at first but her performance became more assured as the night went on.

She promised to bring "order" and "fairness" to the French economy, repeatedly praising the success of the Scandinavian countries in retraining their work force and investing in environmental industries.

She straddled a number of positions, from Blairist can-do pragmatist to mildly Eurosceptic populist. Nothing in a mostly dull debate seemed likely to challenge the president of the Poitou-Charente Region's 39 percentage point lead amongst Socialist voters in the most recent polls.

The other candidates were turgidly competent. M. Fabius, a former prime minister, took a red-blooded leftist line, attacking the "new capitalism" of "irresponsible" financial markets. M. Strauss Kahn, a former finance minister, was solidly social democratic and occasionally praised Mme Royal - possibly positioning himself to be her candidate for prime minister.

There will be two other live Socialist TV debates; on "society and the environment" next Tuesday, and "Europe and foreign affairs" on 7 November.