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February 29, 2012 3:56 pm
François Hollande, the Socialist challenger in France’s presidential election, warned on Wednesday of a threat of fragmentation in Europe, issuing a thinly-veiled attack on those calling for Greece to be pushed into default.
Speaking during a campaign visit to London, Mr Hollande criticised the handling of the eurozone crisis by current leaders, saying “much time had been wasted” on “summits of the last resort”.
He reiterated his call for a renegotiation of the new Eurozone fiscal discipline treaty, due to be signed at a summit in Brussels on Friday, to inject measures to promote growth and to allow the European Central Bank to “act more against speculation”.
He said he saw a threat to Europe from growing populist movements and called for a new effort to regenerate what he called the European project.
“There is a danger that some countries of the Union give up on the European ambition. Some already have the idea of abandoning European countries to their fate,” he said in a clear reference to those figures in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Finland calling for Greece to be forced to default.
“Some populists advocate pulling out of the euro,” he added. Marine Le Pen, candidate of the extreme right National Front party in France, is currently polling up to 20 per cent support with her call for a break-up of the euro.
Mr Hollande, in London to woo the votes of the 300,000 French expatriates living in the city, called on Britain to shed its euroscepticism. He said he realised it was a “dangerous topic” to address in London, but said it was a message “I must insist on” He added: “How can we imagine Europe without Britain taking its place.”
He also said he wanted to “increase and reinforce” the deep defence ties forged between France and the UK over the past two years.
The Socialist candidate, who has said the financial world is his “true adversary”, reinforced his call for tougher regulation and “strict sanctions” on speculatory finance.
Speaking earlier to journalists, he said his target was not the mainstream banking sector. “I’m going after mad finance which disrupts markets and puts states into dependency, which uses financial products and which has no links with economic activity,” he said.
On his visit to London, Mr Hollande visited Ed Miliband, the UK Labour leader, but was not given the opportunity of a meeting with David Cameron, the prime minister, who has given his backing to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
“I wanted to come here to London to say that finance must be in the service of the economy to create wealth and not to enrich itself on the real economy,” Mr Hollande said.
At a joint press conference, Mr Miliband said he was “very, very impressed by the lead François Hollande has shown” on the issue of cracking down on the financial world, which the Socialist leader has called his “true adversary”.
“Regulating finance is a very serious problem,” Mr Miliband said. “What Francois has been talking about – the way we need to reform the way finance works, the way we need to reform the way capitalism works – is absolutely right.”
But Mr Miliband stopped short of backing Mr Hollande’s latest proposal to levy a marginal tax rate of 75 per cent on incomes of more than €1m, saying the Labour party was committed not to go beyond the current 50 per cent level in place in the UK.
Mr Hollande’s comments on his support for the Franco-British defence relationship will confirm the views of those who believe that his election would mark continuity rather than a break with policy.
“I don’t see any reason why Hollande, if elected, would create problems for Franco-British defence collaboration,” says Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform. “On defence, Germany is not as reliable a partner for France as the British are. The fact that Hollande has said that France will say a full member of Nato also means there should be no undermining of the bilateral relationship.”
However, Mr Grant believes that Hollande remains largely unknown to the British political establishment and will be as difficult a partner for Mr Cameron on European Union issues as Nicolas Sarkozy has been.
The Socialist challenger, currently leading Mr Sarkozy in the polls ahead of the first round of the election on April 22, ended his visit with a rally of several hundred of his London-based supporters, who chanted “Francois, president” as he mounted the stage. But in a sign of the split in the expatriate vote, with many of the French community in the British capital hostile to his interventionist policies, he was greeted earlier when he stepped off the train by a smart-suited French businessman calling out: “You are not a liberal”.
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