Norway-born magistrate miscast for French presidency
PARIS (Reuters) - Eva Joly, presidential candidate for the French Greens, stands out as the most atypical figure in a field dominated by graduates of elite colleges and polarised between powerful right- and left-wing blocs.
Born in Norway to a working class family, Joly immigrated to France at the age of 20 and worked as an au pair in a family whose son she later married, changing her name to Joly from Gro Eva Farseth.
As a young mother of two, she held several jobs, including as a seamstress and dress designer, before studying law at night school while working as a secretary during the day.
At 38 she became an investigating magistrate - France's equivalent of a prosecutor or district attorney, with the power to launch probes - beginning a career that made her a feminist icon and a scourge of corrupt businessmen and politicians.
She became a household name with a series of high-profile probes into political sleaze in the 1990s, including cases involving businessman-turned-minister Bernard Tapie, state oil company Elf and kickbacks on French arms sales to Taiwan.
Joly investigated corruption at Elf Acquitaine, since absorbed by oil giant Total. She questioned powerful business and political leaders, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then finance minister, and former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, who was eventually acquitted on appeal after she sent him for trial.
The Elf probe ended in guilty verdicts for more than 10 defendants, including one-time Elf chief Loic Le Floch Prigent, sealing Joly's reputation as a fearless fighter for justice in a country where many regarded the courts as toothless or under political orders.
After the "Elf Affair", Joly left France for a stint in Norway, before returning in the late 2000s and taking the first steps of a career in politics. In 2009, she was elected to the European Parliament for the Europe Ecology party.
A year later, encouraged by Franco-German Greens politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Joly said she would run for president in 2012 and clinched her party's nomination after beating TV nature show host Nicolas Hulot in a primary contest.
However, her entry into mainstream politics has been fraught with difficulties, some due to her lack of experience and others to political opponents seeking to tar her as a foreigner with no instinctive understanding of France.
When the red-spectacled Joly proposed to replace the traditional Bastille Day military parade with a "civilian march", Prime Minister Francois Fillon accused of her lacking insight into "French traditions, French values, French history".
While many said Joly was miscast, her campaign suffered its biggest setback last November when Green party officials struck a back-room deal with the Socialist Party on nuclear power.
Many of her backers saw the deal, which would grant the Greens parliament seats in exchange for reducing French reliance on nuclear power only gradually and partially, as a betrayal of her candidacy.
Mocked by satirists for her Nordic accent and disparaged by some commentators for what they see as an "icy" or "brittle" personality, Joly has failed to form a strong personal bond with voters and suffers from low poll scores.
A week before the first round of a two-stage election, an IFOP poll credited the now green-spectacled candidate with 3 percent of voting intentions. Some other surveys have given her as little as 1.5 percent.
"I think I represent too much strangeness," she told Canal+ television. "I have an accent, I was not born here, I did not attend the ENA (public administration school), I am a woman, and a woman who is not young."
(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Paul Taylor)
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