As the first round of French presidential election came to a close on Sunday night, the two contenders for the top office in a run-off in May should face up to the country's urgent need for change and reform.
French President and Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party's candidate Nicolas Sarkozy speaks at the celebration rally in Paris, France, April 22, 2012. French socialist candidate Francois Hollande and incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy topped out in Sunday's first round of presidential election, entering the run-off held on May 6. [Xinhua]
According to the preliminary results, French Socialist candidate Francois Hollande overtook the incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy as the two are set to enter the May 6 run-off, both promising to drag the country out of its current swamp.
"I am the candidate to get French people together for a change," said Hollande at a gathering following the issue of partial result, claiming that he has become the one candidate "of all the forces who want to turn a new page," while Sarkozy, spirited and confident, said he would "devote all my energy to French people," bearing voters' concern about jobs and immigration in mind.
Despite their political rhetoric which often made it a point to draw a line between the left and the right to attract voters, the next occupant of Elysee Palace must adopt political realism and handle the country's problems by committing himself to serious social reforms to enhance France's competitiveness and embrace globalization as an opportunity rather than denounce it as a threat.
It is true that the French economic models and social systems have been seriously challenged as the country is caught up in the irreversible trend of globalization and European integration, exposing French economy's vulnerabilities to the international financial crisis and eurozone debt crisis.
And the pain is felt most keenly by the working class and the under privileged, who bear the brunt of job cuts and economic stagnation.
This pessimistic social atmosphere and frustration at main political parties provided the hotbed for radical proposals championed by politicians like far-right leader Marine Le Pen from the National Front and Jean-Luc Melenchon representing the Left Front, who together garnered almost a third of the votes.
Marine Le Pen campaigned for toughening citizenship, shutting borders and forbidding foreigners from access to any social aid. She even went so far as to slash annual immigration to 5 percent of its current level, exit eurozone, and get rid of EU free trade and competition rules in her manifesto.
The hard leftist Melenchon, for his part, called for decentralization of power and nationalization of industry apart from an immediate 20 percent rise in the minimum wage and setting a maximum wage of 360,000 euros (471,600 dollars) a year, winning applaud from the lower-incomers.
Grand and eye-catchy as their platforms may appear, both lack feasibility, and hence, credibility. But one thing crystal clear as reflected from the radicals' strong appeal was public yearning for change.
Admittedly, a slew of urgent problems stare in the face of France's next leadership: lackluster economic growth, rising trade deficit, unemployment hovering around 10 percent and public finances in bad shape.
However, these social malaises are by no means excuses for resorting to extreme-left or extreme-right policies that would harm France's own interests in the end. Anti-EU and protectionist policies will blunt France's competitive edge just as much as a tax hike will damage market confidence.
It is hoped that all the extravagant campaign promises that play to the gallery will transform into political pragmatism and the new president will pursue a sensible agenda of reform to cut rising public debt, create more jobs and boost growth.
Arduous work as it is, but France's got the economic strengths to tide over the hard times. With an educated workforce, a galaxy of successful companies and top-notch manufacturing and service industries, the country is well-equipped to rise from the current downturn.
On issues regarding eurozone debt crisis, cooperation and coordination between the new leadership and other key players are still needed when it comes to financial transactions tax, European project bonds, the role of the European Central Bank, or the renegotiation of the EU's fiscal compact.
Eurozone countries' unrelenting efforts in tackling the debt crisis have proved to be fruitful with the current relative calm in markets and investors' recovering confidence, but policy consistency is vital in keeping the endeavor on the right track.
Much is at stake, and it will be a blessing for France and Europe as a whole to see substantial reforms carried out in the hands of a responsible and competent leader to reinvigorate the economy and continue the country's leading role in the fight out of the eurozone debt crisis.