Hollande 'not alone' in bid to re-open fiscal treaty
19.03.12 @ 09:30
BRUSSELS - French Socialist candidate Francois Hollande has claimed he is "not alone" in his bid to re-negotiate the treaty on fiscal discipline.
Meanwhile, Ireland is likely to wait for the outcome of the French elections before holding a referendum on it.
"I will re-negotiate the treaty on budgetary discipline not only for France, but for the whole of Europe," he said during a campaign speech in Paris on Saturday (17 March), adding that the pact focuses on austerity only and does little to spur economic growth.
He said that if he elected he will have a mandate from the French people and support from European Socialists and "allies who are not all Socialists" for re-opening the text.
He mocked the centre-right leaders in Europe for backing his rival, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, saying it is "somewhat touching to see how they come to help him out."
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, who ensured that the fiscal treaty is a pre-condition for any future eurozone bail-outs, openly backed Sarkozy last month and has refused to meet Hollande ahead of the 22 April elections.
Hollande continues to lead in opinion polls by a few percentage points ahead of Sarkozy, although last week for the first time one snap poll put the president ahead.
The French presidential race is being closely watched in Ireland, where the government is organising a referendum on the fiscal pact.
If a referendum is held before the French elections, opponents would likely question why the government is asking the people to endorse a treaty that might be re-negotiated.
"We're conscious of what Mr Hollande has said. We're watching his subsequent statements to get further clarification," Irish finance minister Michael Noonan told reporters last Thursday after a meeting with his French counterpart in Paris.
Noonan insisted that the French elections will not be the "deciding factor" in the timing of the referendum.
For its part, Sinn Fein, Ireland's second largest opposition party, said it will use Hollande's comments to bolster its campaign to urge voters to reject the treaty.
"The opposition to the 'Austerity Treaty' from ... prominent European social democrats such as French presidential candidate Francois Hollande has already become part of the debate in Ireland. It demonstrates the widespread opposition across Europe to this anti-jobs and anti-growth treaty," it said in a statement.
A Socialist victory in France would also change the political landscape in the EU.
Currently all large member states have centre-right governments. Only Austria, Belgium and Denmark have Socialist ones - all of which subscribed to the fiscal compact without putting up resistance.