PARIS (Reuters) - France’s poll-leading Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande said on Thursday that budget-cutting targets should not be set in stone and he would bend them in favor of growth.
Hollande, who has been shown mostly ahead of rival President Nicolas Sarkozy in pre-election polls, has promised to balance French finances by 2017 if he wins the April-May contest.
“I will make the savings that are needed, but at the same time I will not sacrifice the interests of our country,” Hollande said on French television.
The Socialist leader’s deficit targets are based on forecasts of 1.7 percent growth in 2013, 2 percent in 2014 and between 2 and 2.5 percent from 2015 to 2017, figures which economists have said are overly optimistic.
Hollande said if nothing was done to boost the economy, growth would indeed fall short of forecasts, both in France and Europe, jeopardizing deficit targets. He said the priority should therefore be securing growth rather than austerity.
“We have to put the growth back in Europe and we should adapt our deficit-reduction targets accordingly,” Hollande said on France 2.
Hollande has long advocated modifying a freshly signed European fiscal compact to include clauses on economic growth and job creation, and has begun to gain support for his stance from left-wing opposition parties in Germany and Spain.
“I am a European who is going to change the direction of the continent,” Hollande said. “Germany should not decide the direction of Europe alone.”
Earlier, he said there was growing awareness in Europe that the treaty was flawed and that, if elected, he would renegotiate it from the start of his term.
“If Europe is not capable of taking decisions, I will not ratify the treaty because I consider it’s a very important point for growth,” he told France 2.
Reporting By Elisabeth Pineau and Vicky Buffery; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Michael Roddy