France's Hollande in Poland to build foreign ties

WARSAW Fri Mar 9, 2012 6:18am EST

1 of 2. Francois Hollande, Socialist Party candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, arrives to attend a campaign rally in Reims March 8, 2012 during a campaign trip focussed on International Women's Day.

Credit: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

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WARSAW (Reuters) - France's Socialist presidential frontrunner Francois Hollande travels to Poland on Friday hoping to win expatriate votes and build his international profile after a week marred by a report that leaders of Europe's main powers were isolating him.

The one-day visit follows trips in recent months by Hollande - who holds a comfortable poll lead ahead of France's two-round election in April and May - to Madrid, Berlin, Rome and London.

Hollande will hold talks with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, a member of Prime Minister Donald Tusk's pro-business party, and meet the leadership of the opposition left-wing SLD party.

His meeting with Komorowski contrasts with a series of visits on which he has not been received by national leaders.

On previous trips German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the prime ministers of Spain, Italy and Britain did not meet him, prompting a story in the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel that there was a pact to shun Hollande because of his insistence on renegotiating an EU fiscal agreement.

While all the leaders denied any such pact, it enabled French President Nicolas Sarkozy to emphasize the lack of government experience of his rival, who has never held a ministerial post and is little known outside France.

"Hollande's problem is not that there is a pact against him. It's that he hasn't travelled, so he doesn't realize that we are in an open world," said Sarkozy.

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Election poll graphic: r.reuters.com/was36s

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With international interest running high in exactly what changes he wants made in the fiscal pact to make it more growth- friendly, Hollande is due to take part in a public debate on the future of Europe.

"When we look at the crisis and how we got out of it with a European treaty signed by 25 countries that have to ratify it, I'd like to say to Mr Hollande, there won't be a renegotiation (of the pact) and he knows that," former minister and prominent centrist politician Jean-Louis Borloo told Europe 1 radio.

"It's not by going to see the Conservatives in Poland today that will change everything."

Advisers to Hollande have played down reports of a possible clash with Merkel should he win the May 6 presidential runoff.

"Merkel and Hollande are made to get along. They are pragmatic, both of them," said one close Hollande adviser.

Hollande will also visit Warsaw's historic Jewish ghetto and meet members of the expatriate French community - as he has done on other overseas visits.

For the first time, French citizens will be entitled to vote this year for parliamentarians representing a small number of 'overseas districts' in the national parliament.

A close adviser to Hollande said he wanted closer cooperation with Poland and regretted Sarkozy's "abandonment" of tripartite cooperation between France, Germany and Poland in a "Weimar Triangle". "That is a very bad sign which we hope to correct," the adviser said.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and John Irish in Paris; editing by Tim Pearce)

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