French challenger Hollande seeks German dialogue-aide

PARIS Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:13pm EDT

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PARIS Oct 25 (Reuters) - French Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande aims to visit Germany soon to present himself as a credible, fiscally prudent partner in European leadership ahead of next year's election, a senior aide said on Tuesday.

Pierre Moscovici, Hollande's campaign manager in this month's Socialist primary, said the frontrunner in opinion polls for the 2012 election would go to Berlin before the end of the year and wanted to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.

Moscovici said conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy had turned France into a weak "junior partner" for Germany by failing to control public finances and taking impulsive, ill-coordinated initiatives in the euro zone debt crisis.

"When you are bad at home, you can't be good abroad," Moscovici told journalists. "The fact that France is so chaotic means we can't be anything other than a junior partner.

"I don't buy the idea of a super-Sarko in Europe," he said. "He's the person you make deals with, but he's not strong enough to be the motor."

Sarkozy, who is expected to seek a second term next year, is deeply unpopular after three years of economic gloom, but hopes his standing as an international statesman could narrow the gap with Hollande, who has no experience in government.

Sarkozy's gamble to spearhead the West's Libya intervention has paid off, but his battle to overcome differences with Berlin to agree a plan to safeguard the euro risks overshadowing that.

Moscovici said Sarkozy had put France's AAA credit rating at risk and alienated Germany by pushing for the euro zone rescue fund to be turned into a bank and given access to unlimited European Central Bank funding, knowing that was unacceptable to Berlin.

Hollande hoped Wednesday's euro zone summit would come up with a comprehensive plan to overcome the debt crisis because the survival of the euro was at stake, but he was sceptical because EU leaders claimed in July to have saved the euro and the crisis had blown up again within weeks, he said.

"In the next few days, it's about saving the euro," said Moscovici, who was European affairs minister a decade ago when Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin shared power with conservative President Jacques Chirac.

"Failure could plunge Europe into recession. A partial success could keep its head above water," Moscovici said.

Moscovici was at pains to present Hollande as fiscally responsible, declaring: "Whatever it costs, we will reduce the deficit to 3 percent (of gross domestic product) in 2013."

Sarkozy has made that commitment to the European Union but Moscovici said the centre-right government's 2012 budget was based on a dishonest economic growth forecast and extra revenue would be needed to meet the deficit target.

Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse said on Tuesday the government would likely revise its 1.75 percent growth forecast in line with the weaker climate and could announce new measures to keep the deficit on target. The IMF and private forecasters see French growth of between 0.9 and 1.2 percent next year.

Moscovici dismissed suggestions that ratings agencies and financial markets were worried by the left's election programme. "What Moody's is looking at is (Prime Minister Francois) Fillon's budget management, not Hollande's programme," he said.

Opinion polls taken this month suggest Hollande has roughly a 60-40 percent lead over Sarkozy now, but the election is not until April and May, and the race is certain to narrow.

Moscovici said Hollande would put forward his own election manifesto in January and would detail the financing of the extra spending measures he proposes, such as creating 60,000 teaching jobs and 300,000 youth jobs over five years.

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