Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande took to the airwaves on Monday evening to denounce the latest austerity drive announced by the government, at the same time as the prime minister spoke on a rival channel.

"/> Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande took to the airwaves on Monday evening to denounce the latest austerity drive announced by the government, at the same time as the prime minister spoke on a rival channel.

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FRANCOIS HOLLANDE

Rivals attack government austerity plans

Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande took to the airwaves on Monday evening to denounce the latest austerity drive announced by the government, at the same time as the prime minister spoke on a rival channel.

Prime Minister François Fillon was defending the new plan on the 8pm news programme on TV channel TF1 while Hollande appeared on the France 2 bulletin.

In the plan announced on Monday, the government said it hoped to balance its budget by 2016 by saving €100 billion ($138 billion) overall.

A package of measures to save €7 billion in 2012 was announced, including raising the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate from 5.5 percent to 7 percent and a temporary increase in corporation tax for larger companies.

Fillon also announced that plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 will be brought forward from 2018 to 2017.

The prime minister defended his plans on Monday evening as “just” and “necessary.”

“Not many governments, just a few months from elections, would have the courage to take the measures we’ve decided to take,” he said.

“We’ve done it because we believe it is our duty to protect the French people from the very serious dangers that are faced by many European countries that did not take the necessary decisions in time.”

Socialist François Hollande claimed the plans were “incoherent, unjust and inconsequential” and said they were an “acknowledgement of failure” on the part of the prime minister and President Sarkozy. 

“There is a crisis, I don’t deny that, but there’s also revenue that’s been lost with the €75 million tax gifts handed out by Nicolas Sarkozy,” he said. 

Monday’s announcement also included a freeze on the salaries of the president, prime minister and other ministers. Hollande said he would go one step further by “reducing by 30 percent the salary of the president and his ministers.”

The measures announced received widespread support in the president’s own UMP party, but other opposition politicians were critical.

Jean-François Copé, general secretary of the UMP, called the plans “courageous” while centrist François Bayrou said they “lacked justice.”

“The Sarkozy government has struck a new violent blow against the purchasing power of the French,” said far right Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

“By pushing the French towards economic and social agony we are building towards the fall of the country and the explosion of the debt.”


Clips of François Hollande and François Fillon on Monday evening’s news bulletins.

 

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ELECTION

Failure for Fillon: How the one-time hot favourite watched his campaign collapse

French conservative candidate Francois Fillon was one of the early favourites to become president, but his hopes of playing on his experience to win votes collapsed as a fake jobs scandal engulfed his campaign.

Failure for Fillon: How the one-time hot favourite watched his campaign collapse
Photo: AFP

The former prime minister was charged in March with misuse of public funds over the employment of his British-born wife Penelope as a parliamentary assistant for 15 years.

READ ALSO: Fillon's wife Penelope charged over fake jobs scandal 

It was a severe blow to the 63-year-old, who clinched the nomination for the Republicans party — France's main centre-right party — in November by presenting himself as unsullied by the scandals that surrounded his rival and former boss, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The allegations that Penelope had earned €680,000 for a fictional role were first reported by Le Canard Enchainé newspaper in January.

Fillon's reaction was to strongly deny that either he or his wife had done anything wrong and to claim his left-wing rivals were operating a “secret cell” to blacken his name.

It was a response that drew scorn from Socialist President Francois Hollande and surprised even some of Fillon's allies.

After backtracking on an early promise to withdraw his candidacy if he was charged, Fillon found himself in the unlikely position of running as an anti-establishment rebel determined to defy the government, magistrates and
the media he said were working against him.

Subsequent revelations that a wealthy French-Lebanese lawyer bought handmade suits for Fillon worth €13,000 each drew further ire from his opponents.

In the end he trailed home in the first round of the election behind projected winners Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, a result his campaign coordinator admitted was a “huge disappointment”.

'Iron-fisted' approach

Fillon's policy offer was based on deep cuts in public spending and slashing hundreds of thousands of jobs from France's bloated civil service.

He also proposed attacking one of the sacred cows of the French left, the 35-hour working week, raising it to 39 hours.

A leaner, meaner France could, he argued, rival Germany as the foremost economy in the eurozone within a decade.

In TV debates, Fillon stressed that of all the candidates only he had experience of running the country.

In the wake of the killing of a policeman on Paris's Champs Elysees avenue on Thursday, he said that for years, “I have been warning that we are facing an Islamic totalitarianism” and promised an “iron-fisted” approach.

His outspokenness stood in contrast to his image as prime minister, of a quiet and urbane man whose steady temperament contrasted with the impulsive Sarkozy who once dismissed him as “Mr Nobody”.

Once the youngest member of parliament at age 27, the devoutly Catholic Fillon voted against gay marriage when it was legalised in 2013.

The self-declared “Gaullist” — a form of nationalism that proposes an independent and strong France — also has a close bond with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two men overlapped as prime ministers from 2008-2012 and their closeness led to questions about Fillon's foreign policy.

Country manor

Fillon and his Welsh wife met at university in France when they were in their early twenties.

They soon married and live in an imposing manor house near Le Mans in northern France where they brought up their five children.

Two of their children have also had paid work for their father in parliament, performing roles as “legal advisors” despite not being qualified lawyers at the time.

Penelope was until recently a low-key political wife, a keen horse-rider who once described herself as a country “peasant” who preferred the countryside to Paris.

READ ALSO: Who is Penelope Fillon?

In examining Fillon's insistence that his wife has “always” worked to help his career, French media homed in on previous comments she made.

“Until now, I have never got involved in my husband's political life,” Penelope told regional newspaper Le Bien Public last year.

READ ON: Full coverage of French Presidential Election 2017