France’s Socialist Party presidential candidate said the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, wasn’t his opponent rather “the world of finance” which he promised to rein in by separating banks’ loan making businesses from their “speculative” operations, enacting a financial transaction tax and limiting big bonus payouts.
In his first major policy speech since winning the nomination in an open primary in October, François Hollande vowed to “change the destiny” of France with an education policy to reduce the number of young people who leave school without a diploma.
He also said to favor an accelerated withdrawal of the 4,000 French troops who are currently serving in Afghanistan, two days after four soldiers were killed on base by an Afghan trainee.
“Leading this country means having to make difficult decisions,” he said, “not simply reacting to a tragedy.” It was a reference to President Sarkozy’s suspension of the French mission in Afghanistan in the wake of the shooting. Hollande nevertheless insisted that the French contribution to the NATO war effort was “finished.”
France’s credit rating was downgraded by an American rating agency earlier this month as the government has struggled to balance its books. The conservatives have introduced billions worth of austerity measures in a response to the European debt crisis but they have mostly been composed of tax increases which will reduce the state deficit in the short term but could inhibit business activity and growth in the long run. Necessary entitlement and labor market reforms have been postponed.
Hollande was silent on necessary health-care spending and pension reforms but promised to balance France’s budget by the end of his first term in 2017 which is a year later than the current government has pledged to eliminate its shortfall.
The candidate’s attack on the banking sector came a week after he promised to be “tough on the dominance of finance, tough on growth policies, tough on new instruments such as the public investment bank, tough on tax so that we can make it serve production and serve justice.”
Similar rhetoric is deployed by left-wing politicians across Europe who lament that the financial industry has yet to pay for the role they believe it played in fomenting the credit crunch of 2008 which anticipated the present recession.
Despite a mild surge in recent polls, Sarkozy lags far behind Hollande who hopes to become the first socialist French president since François Mitterrand left office in 1995. Mitterrand, too, rallied against the “power of finance” which he once claimed “rots through to the very conscience of man.”
The incumbent splits the right-wing vote with the candidate of the more populist Front national which appeals to blue-collar voters in particular. In a runoff against Hollande, Sarkozy would lose with 43 percent of the vote compared to 57 percent for his challenger.