Europe

Profiles: 2012 French presidential election candidates

France's 2012 presidential election is one of the most closely fought in decades.

Nicolas Sarkozy may become the first president not to be re-elected for a second term since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981.

Here the BBC News website looks at the 10 men and women vying for the Elysee Palace in the two-round election, to be held on 22 April and 6 May.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy on a visit to La Rochelle, western France, 21 February

Elected president in 2007 with a convincing lead of six percentage points over Socialist rival Segolene Royal, the faces a different, some would say stronger, challenger in Francois Hollande.

Five years in office have not been kind to the man who succeeded Jacques Chirac with the promise of a dynamic new start under his UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party.

Radical social policies such as raising the legal retirement age in 2010 from 60 to 62 antagonised the left while nominal allies resented his leadership style.

Mr Chirac famously chided him in his memoirs for being "irritable, rash, overconfident and allowing for no doubt, least of all regarding himself".

But the biggest obstacle he may face at the election is the state of the French economy, which took a blow in January when Standard & Poor's downgraded its credit rating from AAA to AA+ .

His pitch ahead of the elections had been to tell the voters that, though they might not like him much, he had what it took to battle through the economic crisis.

After the downgrade, this argument began to look a little thin.

  • Vital stats: Born 28 January 1955, raised in Paris, married to former super model Carla Bruni
  • Sound bite: "I won't be the candidate of a small elite against the people"
  • Social media: Reportedly dictates tweets to his team which are signed "NS" on his Twitter account @NicolasSarkozy

Francois Hollande

Francois Hollande in Bonneuil-sur-Marne, Paris, 20 February

An , the Socialist Party's great hope has nonetheless never held national government office.

He is regarded by many as an affable moderate whose quiet manner contrasts sharply with the intensity and glamour of the current president.

However, his modest image conceals - his supporters would argue - a steely determination to lead his country.

To take the party ticket in 2012, he had to prevail in a gruelling primary election which put both his political and private life to the test.

Jacques Chirac has described him as a "true statesman" capable of crossing party lines.

Whatever his merits, some will always regard him as a poor substitute for charismatic former IMF chief , brought down by sex scandals last year.

One former Socialist cabinet minister, Claude Allegre, shocked many by endorsing Mr Sarkozy for president and rejecting Mr Hollande for being indecisive and "not up to the job" of a national leader.

Doubts about his political skills resurfaced after plans for a 75% tax on France's richest citizens, apparently without consulting his own team.

He to the EU fiscal compact before it can be ratified, saying he is against "saving for saving's sake".

  • Vital stats: Born 12 August 1954 in the north-western city of Rouen, former partner of Segolene Royal and father of her children
  • Sound bite: "I want to put the magic back in the French dream"
  • Bad day: Getting during a speech in Paris
  • Social media: Has biggest team of all the candidates - five people to just two for Mr Sarkozy - with "worker bee" Ariane Vincent, 28, serving as the official voice of @fhollande

Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen in Paris, 13 February

The daughter of National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen has taken the main party of the far right in a rather different direction.

Nonetheless, she has sharply divided public opinion with her attacks on illegal immigration, which she has likened to a tsunami, and a familiar theme is the "Islamisation" of France.

She has also sought to emphasise the FN's opposition to the euro and advocacy of protectionism.

Her efforts to shed the party's xenophobic image have been such that its campaign group features a civilian police worker with Moroccan origins and a leading light in French Jewry.

She even objects to the term "far right", which she says marginalises a group that regularly attracts about 15% of voters in national elections.

Her struggle to gather the endorsements from elected officials required by law in order to stand in the election was widely reported.

  • Vital stats: Born 5 August 1968 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, where Nicolas Sarkozy was raised as a child; the youngest of Jean-Marie Le Pen's three daughters
  • Sound bite: "French citizenship should be either inherited or merited"
  • Social media: Said to tweet herself but only "very occasionally"; the @MLP_officiel account is run by a 24-year-old, David Rachline

Jean-Luc Melenchon

Jean-Luc Melenchon addressing a rally in Bastia, northern Corsica, 22 February

A militant socialist for decades, he was well placed to take up the gauntlet of the radical left and is standing on behalf of a Communist-backed coalition called Left Front.

After a career in the Socialist Party, where he rose to become minister of vocational education under Lionel Jospin, he broke with it in 2008 to form the Left Party, which is inspired by leftist movements in Latin America and France's own long history of radicalism.

He advocates a "citizens' revolution" which entails the decentralisation of power and nationalisation of industry in a new "Sixth Republic".

Once a defender of European federalism, the Left Party's sole MEP nowadays believes the EU has been ruined by "economic liberalism".

He has a reputation for brusqueness, famously describing Dominique Strauss-Kahn as an "imbecile" in December 2010.

Never afraid to show his dislike of journalists - - he prefers to blog profusely about his views.

Detractors have dubbed him the "Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Left" or simply "Mechant [English: Nasty] Melenchon".

Nonetheless, his success in the opinion polls has been the surprise of the campaign and, on the last full weekend before the vote, it is claimed that he drew more people to a than either Mr Hollande or Mr Sarkozy in Paris.

  • Vital stats: Born into a pied-noir family in Morocco 19 August 1951, grew up in Normandy and then the Jura; a soixante-huitard who took part in the 1968 student revolt as a schoolboy, he has been a proud free mason since 1983
  • Sound bite: "I've got a strong temperament. What do you expect? You wouldn't want a damp squib to face up to this kind of challenge"
  • Bad day: Brow-beating a cub reporter who had tried to defend an investigation into brothels by Le Parisien newspaper. "Shut your little mouth and talk politics," Mr Melenchon told him to camera
  • Social media: Leaves his @melenchon2012 Twitter account to one person, 26-year-old Clement Senechal

Francois Bayrou

Francois Bayrou on a train to Amiens, 23 February

The great , the MoDem (Democratic Movement) leader shocked the French political establishment in 2007 by taking nearly a fifth of the vote in the first round of that presidential election.

He had come from nowhere in the opinion polls though in truth a grand political tradition lay behind him - that of Mr Giscard D'Estaing, whose now-defunct UDF coalition he once led.

Supporters regard this proud son of Gascony as a gallant champion of the French regions and farmers, but also as one of France's most pro-European candidates.

Critics accuse him of opportunism and arrogance, and point to his apparent inability to form lasting political alliances.

While Mr Bayrou is not expected to get past the first round in 2012, he may this time find himself in the role of a genuine kingmaker come the second.

Unlike in 2007 , he has promised to endorse one of the second-round candidates in 2012, should he not succeed himself.

  • Vital stats: Born 25 May 1951 near Lourdes, a practising Roman Catholic and family man who famously asks where the local church is on campaign stops around France
  • Sound bite: "We are the civilisation which refuses to blame the weak for the poor choices of the strong"
  • Bad day: Being savaged in 2007 by Simone Veil as a "schemer", "opportunist", "traitor" and "crank"
  • Social media: Reportedly writes his own tweets on the @bayrou account but also has team of two to help

Eva Joly

Eva Joly at a press conference in Paris, 20 February

The candidate for Europe Ecology - The Greens made headlines after it emerged she had from extreme nationalists.

But Ms Joly (born 5 December 1943) is reportedly no stranger to death threats because of her past work as an investigative judge.

Born in Norway, she came to France at the age of 20 as an au pair, marrying and pursuing a career in law.

She maintained ties with Scandinavia, where she has campaigned against corruption.

In her autobiography, No Cheating, she writes: "I am a Viking going back 20 generations but part of me, of my dreams, struck a chord with France immediately."

The Greens have an electoral pact with the Socialists under which they can count on winning more seats in parliament in return for supporting Francois Hollande in the expected second round of the presidential election.

Other hopefuls

  • Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is a former UMP member who has formed his own party, Arise the Republic
  • Nathalie Arthaud represents Workers' Struggle
  • Philippe Poutou represents the New Anti-Capitalist Party
  • Jacques Cheminade represents Solidarity and Progress

Nearly-rans

Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister under President Chirac and long-time rival of Mr Sarkozy, failed to gather the 500 endorsements required to stand. Likewise Corinne Lepage, standing on an environmentalist platform.

Social media insights taken from report by French news website 01net.

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