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POLITICS

‘Household budgets’ matter most to French voters insists Hidalgo

Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris and presidential candidate for France's Socialist Party, is struggling to make a dent in the polls but insists that she can deliver what the electorate wants.

French Mayor of Paris and Socialist Party (PS) candidate for the 2022 presidential election, Anne Hidalgo, delivers a speech.
French Mayor of Paris and Socialist Party (PS) candidate for the 2022 presidential election, Anne Hidalgo, delivers a speech. She insists that she is "in tune" with French voters. (Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP)

Lagging in the polls and struggling to make an impact barely two months before France’s presidential election, Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo believes her time will come in the campaign.

“The real issues are household budgets, quality of life, and people’s worries about the future of their children, and I think I’m in tune with those expectations,” she told AFP in an interview on Tuesday.

READ MORE How well is the French economy really doing?

The 62-year-old mayor of Paris has so far failed to make her voice heard during a campaign dominated by  debate on immigration, identity and security, driven by the far-right and conservatives.

“It’s true that you’re heard in television studios when you make outrageous statements about foreigners or French identity, but it’s not because you get clicks and likes with hateful speeches that this is what the larger population wants,” Hidalgo said.

The campaign, notable for the emergence of anti-Islam TV pundit Eric Zemmour, has left her and others wondering “how the country ended up here, with this media show that makes you want to be sick?” she said.

The mother-of-three has refused to engage in personal attacks, remains focused on social spending and the environment, and has steered clear of engaging with Zemmour — unlike her hard-left rival Jean-Luc Melenchon.

But the tactic has often left her appearing to be on the sidelines looking in, lacking political punch.

Portugal’s Socialists may have won elections last week and Germany’s left-wing Social Democrats have regained power, but there is so far little sign of the Socialists in France ousting centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

Fragmented left

The latest survey on Monday suggested Hidalgo would win just 3.5 percent in the first round of the election on April 10.

Such a result would be another catastrophe for her party, which has been one of the dominant forces of post-war politics in France.

Does she feel the pressure, given that a final score of under 5.0 percent could spell financial disaster for the Socialists because her campaign spending would not be refunded by the state?

“Not on my own. And this shared destiny is something that carries you too,” she says. “When the left has been in power, it has enabled all the major social advances.”

Recent developments have given her camp little reason to feel they are any closer to recapturing past glories.

The left-wing field of candidates was already crowded, but Hidalgo’s weakness has led a fifth person to enter the fray, former Socialist justice minister Christiane Taubira, who launched her bid in January.

Hopes of a common left candidate were dealt perhaps a final blow at the weekend when a “people’s primary”, an online vote by nearly 400,000 left-wing supporters, endorsed Taubira.

But all her rivals rejected the result, including Hidalgo who trailed in fifth place.

Mélenchon, a former Trotskyist, appears  best placed to challenge the three front-runners in the polls: Macron, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and conservative Valerie Pécresse.

Reluctant

Explanations for the demise of the French Socialist party as a national political force are numerous and varied.

Many point the finger at ex-president Francois Hollande whose five-year term from 2012-2017 ended in calamity when he decided not to run for a second term after a series of gaffes and catastrophic polling figures.

“I say to people ‘we’ve learned from our errors, you have to recognise that’,” Hidalgo added.

“There’s a new generation around me which is starting out in national politics with this campaign.”

The Andalucia-born daughter of Spanish immigrants admits she was initially reluctant to stand, having just won a second term as Paris mayor in 2020 and ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024.

She credits Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa for talking her round.

“He said to me… ‘You have to be the one that reawakens the Socialist, Social Democrat family in France,'” she said.

“I thought that I wouldn’t be able to look at myself if our country missed another opportunity to address its transition to a green economy and the question of inequalities.”

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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