PARIS (Reuters) - Hard-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon said on Friday that France should draw inspiration from Latin America’s left-wing revolutions and nationalize oil giant Total (TOTF.PA), as Argentina is doing with energy firm YPF (REP.MC).
Melenchon, whose surge in support to challenge for third place has been the main surprise in the campaign, told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s first round of voting that IMF-imposed austerity was pushing Europe deeper into crisis and causing intolerable poverty, just as it had in Latin America.
The Communist-backed firebrand, who says the Socialist Party have gone soft, has drawn tens of thousands to open-air rallies and is credited with about 14 percent of the vote.
His supporters, angry about unemployment and disparities between rich and poor, are expected to rally overwhelmingly behind Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande in a May 6 runoff against conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy. Polls show the challenger winning the second round by a comfortable margin.
Melenchon hailed “citizens’ revolutions” led by Latin American leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who this week announced a plan to seize control of YPF from Spain’s Repsol (REP.MC), igniting a chorus of international criticism.
“The revolutions in Latin America are a source of inspiration for us,” Melenchon said at the meeting with foreign media staged at his headquarters in a disused factory in Paris’s eastern suburbs.
“The nationalization of YPF is proof that the citizens’ revolution is still active. If we win power, we would nationalize Total in exactly the same way,” he said, beneath red campaign posters inviting French voters to “Take power!”
BRING DOWN “MERKOZY”
Melenchon is running fourth in the polls ahead of Sunday’s ballot, slightly behind far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. While he is well short of joining the two-horse runoff, he has shaken up the campaign with his fiery oratory and ability to mobilize big crowds nostalgic for the barricades.
The 60-year-old former teacher’s poll surge in recent months has tapped into a popular frustration at the highest jobless rate in 12 years and economic stagnation.
Melenchon has made it plain he will back the Socialist candidate Hollande after the first round but has stopped short of stating what conditions he might seek.
“We will do everything in our power to make Mr. Sarkozy lose,” he said, saying that would set an example for other countries in Europe, notably Germany, where conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel faces elections in October next year:
“By making Mr Sarkozy lose we will bring down the ‘Merkozy’ axis: the Merkel-Sarkozy axis. One of the partners will fall and then we will only have the other to finish off. In a year’s time, we could dismantle everything they have achieved.”
Hollande, who has pledged to hike taxes on big corporations and tax income over 1 million euros a year at 75 percent, has said his policies will not be hijacked by anyone and pledged to stick to France’s EU commitment to balance its budget.
Hollande has called, however, for pro-growth pledges to be added to a budgetary discipline pact pushed by Merkel and signed by 25 EU leaders last month.
Melenchon, who quit the Socialists in 2008 to found his own Left Party, said Hollande’s approach was too soft.
“If we win power, this treaty is going straight in the rubbish bin,” he said, blaming IMF-backed austerity for plunging European economies such as Greece into deep recessions. “In Europe, we have achieved nothing with these failed policies.”
Melenchon said the euro currency had favored unity on the continent but was too strong at Berlin’s insistence. The European Central Bank, should weaken it, he said, echoing similar calls from both Sarkozy and Hollande.
“We need to make the value of the euro fall so that we can win back a share of global markets for our products,” he said.
Reporting By Daniel Flynn; Editing by Brian Love and Alastair Macdonald