French Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande vowed on Thursday to "dominate finance", following warnings from the right that a left-wing victory would trigger attacks on the euro.

"/> French Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande vowed on Thursday to "dominate finance", following warnings from the right that a left-wing victory would trigger attacks on the euro.

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NICOLAS SARKOZY

Hollande vows to ‘dominate finance’

French Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande vowed on Thursday to "dominate finance", following warnings from the right that a left-wing victory would trigger attacks on the euro.

Hollande vows to 'dominate finance'
LCP Assemblee Nationale

Hollande is on course to unseat right-wing incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy in the poll to choose the powerful leader of the eurozone’s second economy, which will be conducted over two rounds on April 22nd and May 6th.

With eurozone bond markets on edge over renewed fears that Spain and Italy will struggle to cope with their sovereign debt, Sarkozy has warned that France would be next in the firing line in the event of a Socialist victory.

But Hollande hit back hard, accusing Sarkozy of racking up debt and of allowing France to be bullied by the world of finance into sacrificing growth for austerity, without reaping any benefits for the real economy.

He said he would fight “speculation” and work with France’s EU partners to better regulate markets, rather that surrendering to them, as he alleged Sarkozy has done since his election in 2007.

“What I want is for us to show, France but also Europe, that we have a shared capacity to dominate finance,” Hollande said, on public television.

“I’ve said very clearly what would be my path towards the repair of our public finances. I’ve said that we need more growth, because it is needed, and so I need fear no crisis,” he declared.

“And if the markets are worried — I don’t know if they are, I know that for now they are unfortunately mobilised as regards Italy and Spain — I will tell them here and now that I will leave them no space to act,” he said.

And he dismissed fears his election would trigger a speculative attack on the euro, noting that he has been the opinion poll frontrunner for months and so the markets have had time to get used to the idea of him as president.

“It’s the outgoing president who brought the country to the situation it is in. Public debt has grown by 600 billion euros, we’ve lost our Triple-A credit rating and we have a trade deficit of 70 billion euros,” he said.

“And now he comes to tell us: ‘Watch out, it could be even worse if someone else was in charge’? Well, no it couldn’t.”

Countries borrow money on international bond markets to finance their budget deficits and to rollover their debt. If they lose the confidence of investors, the interest rate to borrow can rise to unsustainable levels, forcing a government in trouble to seek rescue help elsewhere.

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NICOLAS SARKOZY

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson

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