Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party frontrunner and President Nicolas Sarkozy’s main opponent in France’s presidential election, promised to combat the financial sector and restore equality if voted into office May.
“Let me tell you who my rival is. It does not bear a name or have a face, it’s the finance industry,” Hollande told a crowd of more than 10,000 supporters during his first campaign rally yesterday. “In the past 20 years, the financial industry has taken control of our societies, of our lives and threatens our states,” he said in the northern suburbs of Paris.
Exactly 90 days before the first round of voting, 57-year-old Hollande presented for the first time proposals including a tax on financial transactions and splitting retail and investment banks. The lawmaker and former Socialist Party chief said new rules to control the financial sector would be implemented in the first weeks of his administration.
“His stance against the financial sector is intense, but realistic because he’s adopted measures that already have been proposed or existed, like the U.S. Glass-Steagall Act,” said Nicolas Tenzer, the director of CERAP, a political think-tank in Paris. “This was a nod to the left-wing of his party and also an electorate that doesn’t want to bow to the financial elite.”
An opinion poll released Jan. 21 showed Hollande with a 14-point a lead over Sarkozy. The president, who has yet to declare his intention to run, would lose by 57 percent to 43 percent against the Socialist challenger if the two faced-off in the second round of the elections on May 6, according to the BVA poll. The poll of 974 people was carried out from Jan. 18 to 19 and didn’t provide a margin of error.
France hasn’t had a Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand’s second term ended in 1995.
The first round of voting will be held on April 22 with the top two candidates competing in the decisive contest on May 6. Legislative elections will follow in June.
In advance of a Jan. 26 press conference where he will make a full presentation of his platform, Hollande yesterday outlined proposals such as banning stock-options, the regulation of bonuses and a rule to prevent French banks from operating in tax havens. He also called for the creation of a public European credit-rating company.
“There is no reason for the markets to worry about yesterday’s speech,” said Dominique Barbet, an economist at BNP Paribas in Paris, said in an interview. On macro-economic matters, “there’s a quasi-consensus in the centre of the political spectrum, from Sarkozy to Hollande. The extremes are different, but they have no chance of gaining power.”
Philippe Mills, the head of Agence France Tresor, the French debt-management body, said in an interview in Le Figaro that market analysts view the main candidates as having “clear commitments” to cut deficits and managing public money.
Finance Minister Francois Baroin critized Hollande’s stance on financial markets. “Saying you are against finance is like saying ‘I’m against rain and fog,’” he said yesterday on RTL radio yesterday. “I don’t know of an economy without banks and finance. What we have done is impose a certain number of rules. To say finance is the enemy is naive,” Baroin said.
In his speech Hollande also said he would overhaul the tax system, create a public bank to support industry, maintain the 35-hour workweek, increase funding for culture and cut the share of nuclear power in France’s energy supply to 50 percent in 2025 from about 75 percent today.
He pledged to cap ”excessive” prices for fuel, rents and doctors fees. He said he would initiate a housing program and hire of 60,000 new school workers.
French troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan by 2013, Hollande said, as mission in the nation was ”finished.”
The salaries of the president and ministers would be cut by 30 percent, he said.
Germany, France’s main partner and Europe’s biggest economy, would be his first destination as a head of state, Hollande said. He would want to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and discuss a ”new orientation for Europe,” including the overhaul of the Dec. 9 European fiscal treaty and the creation of bonds issued jointly by all members of the euro area, a measure Merkel has consistently opposed.
Hollande did not say what measures he would take to fight the economic crisis as France. Europe’s second-largest economy is probably in recession and about 61,000 job losses are forecast for the first half by the national statistics office.
The Socialist candidate needs to show he has a plan to shield France from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis that’s in its third year, say electors such as Eveline Bureau, a 60-year-old Parisian grandmother of five.
“We voters want to be sure the next president is fit to fight this terrible economic crisis,” she said. “We need a fireman who can put out the economic blaze.”
France’s public debt declined in the third quarter to 85.3 percent of economic output from 86.2 percent in the second quarter, state statistical institute Insee said on Dec. 28.
Hollande has been reluctant to unveil substantive measures to counter the crisis, inviting criticism from Sarkozy’s camp.
Sarkozy has said repeatedly that he’s best placed to deal with the crisis, calling himself a “captain in the storm.” He has accused Hollande of failing to have a “credible” solution.
On Jan. 13, Standard & Poor’s cut France’s AAA credit rating in the country’ first-ever downgrade, denting Sarkozy’s crisis-management credentials.
Hollande, who never cited the name of Sarkozy in his speech, said his rival had achieved a “mandate of downgrading, not just of our credit rating, not just of our public finances, but of our living standards.”
In the hour-and-a-half speech, Hollande featured his ”simplicity” and ”authenticity,” recalled his family background and his decades of political work in rural France.
As the crowd was cheering him, screaming ”Hollande President,” the lawmaker and father-of-four, repeated several times that ”equality” was the pillar of his presidential bid, citing France’s 1789 revolution and the ”French Dream” of universal and equal rights.