The axe has finally fallen on France’s AAA credit rating, and it many believe it will signal the end of the Sarkozy era in France. The president’s approval ratings have hovered around 30 percent for the last two years, and he staked his re-election hopes on keeping the nation’s AAA grade. To appease the markets he approved France’s first postwar budget reductions, two rounds of them. Now he is desperate for a boost in the polls while being committed to unpopular cutbacks.
Sarkozy had been attempting a dramatic image change: From President “Bling-Bling” who showed off glittering watches and rock star friends, to presenting himself as the only candidate with the capacity to navigate the debt crisis. The rating downgrade makes that a tough sell.
French newspaper Le Figaro quoted far-right politician and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen as saying, “It is the end of the myth of the protecting president.” Le Pen trails Sarkozy by just two points in the polls but now could knock him out of the first round of elections. The media-savvy Le Pen has added economic protectionism to the National Front’s party platform, winning over conservative blue-collar voters who decades ago voted communist.
Front-runner and Socialist Francois Hollande saw his lead over Sarkozy drop down to eight points in the latest poll, but his victory this May now looks more secure than ever.
Sarkozy reportedly told allies last month: “If we lose the triple-A, I’m dead.” Another major ratings agency, Fitch, said earlier this week they plan to keep France’s AAA rating for all of 2012, but it remains to be seen if such support will be enough to save an extremely unpopular president.