Dominique Strauss-Kahn said his wife’s opposition to a second term running the International Monetary Fund matters to him as speculation mounts he may seek the French presidency next year.
Anne Sinclair, his spouse, said earlier this month that she doesn’t want him to serve another term as IMF managing director. Leaving the Washington-based lender is a pre-condition for re-entering French politics, and to run as a Socialist in the 2012 election, Strauss-Kahn would need to decide by mid-summer.
“We talk about things,” Strauss-Kahn said late yesterday on France 2 television. “What she says is very important to me. When I chose to, or was considering coming to Washington, we talked about it together. Whatever I plan to do in the future we will talk about it and her opinion will matter.”
The former finance minister’s appearance capped a four-day visit to Paris for a Group of 20 meeting, where he held a press conference stressing his concern for “the man in the street.” Strauss-Kahn’s comments then were on issues more of interest to French voters, rather than dwelling on the gathering’s hard-fought communique.
“Strauss-Kahn reached his two goals during this visit,” said Gerard Grunberg, a professor at the Political Sciences Institute in Paris. “Make sure nobody doubts any more that he will be a candidate for the French presidential race in 2012 while never saying it. And make crystal clear that he is a man of the left, a real socialist.”
The 61-year-old “DSK,” as he is dubbed in France, would be the strongest opposition challenger to current President Nicolas Sarkozy, 56, polls show. The battle for the presidency will see candidates grapple with how to revive the euro region’s second-largest economy, which is plagued with unemployment at a seven-year high, rising debt and an unpopular spending squeeze.
A CSA institute poll taken Feb. 14 and 15 showed Strauss-Kahn would defeat Sarkozy in the final presidential round by 61 percent to 39 percent. A Viavoice poll in today’s Liberation newspaper showed Sarkozy’s approval rating fell 4 percentage points to 30 percent this month, the lowest since his presidency began in 2007.
Strauss-Kahn had a 54 percent approval rating, leading other potential Socialist candidates including Martine Aubry, Francois Hollande and Segolene Royal, Viavoice said. The Paris-based pollster questioned 1,010 adults on Feb. 17 and 18. It didn’t publish a margin of error.
Sarkozy nominated Strauss-Kahn for the IMF in November 2007. His mandate ends in Oct. 2012. As IMF chief he cannot express political opinions and needs to resign if he declares his candidacy for the election in May next year.
Grunberg said Strauss-Kahn may state his intention to run after the Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, in May, shortly before the Socialist candidacy deadline in early July.
In Paris, Strauss-Kahn said repeatedly that his “full-time” focus is on the IMF, not on French politics. He also said he misses France and cited his family.
“I have my kids here, the more I’m in France, the better it is,” he told Bloomberg Television on Feb. 19. “I like restaurants here and I like to walk in the streets,” though “frankly, I have a job. I have no time to think of something else.”
Sinclair is a former French television journalist who married Strauss-Kahn in 1991. She writes a column on U.S. politics for the weekly Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t wish that he does a second term,” the French weekly magazine Le Point quoted her as saying in an interview published Feb. 9.
At his G-20 press conference, Strauss-Kahn highlighted accomplishments during his three-year tenure, saying that he turned the “evil IMF” into the central player of the global recovery. He emphasized the need to foster growth, a theme he returned to in yesterday’s appearance.
“What matters is what happens to the man in the street who is looking for a job, can’t find one, has trouble paying his electricity bills,” Strauss-Kahn said on France 2. “Looking at real life, that’s what will help Europe recover.”
From 1997 to 1999, as the Socialist government’s finance minister, Strauss-Kahn presided over a booming economy. Gross domestic product grew 3.5 percent in 1998, the fastest pace that decade. He cut the budget deficit to below 3 percent in 1999.
Sarkozy is struggling to meet his own deficit targets. On Feb. 17, the state auditor said the government wasn’t doing enough to cut the budget shortfall to 3 percent of output in 2013 and that his 2 percent growth forecast for this year was “may be” optimistic. Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said yesterday that she “firmly” believes the economy will grow 2 percent this year.
For Industry Minister Eric Besson, a former Socialist who left the party to support Sarkozy in France’s 2007 election, Strauss-Kahn came as close as possible to beginning a presidential campaign yesterday, bending the IMF’s rule against political involvement without actually breaching it.
“What I saw last night was the declaration of his candidacy,” Besson said on France 2. “If he confirms this, I’d take it as good news for the country. We need a quality candidate,” he said, adding that he expects Sarkozy to prevail in the electoral showdown in the end.