Sarkozy Opponent Calls Finance Sector His 'Foe'

23.01.2012 13:05

WSJ: LE BOURGET, France—French Socialist Party candidate François Hollande sought to cement his lead over President Nicolas Sarkozy in opinion polls, positioning himself resolutely to the left three months ahead of the election.

Mr. Hollande said on Sunday that some of his first actions, were he to win the presidential election, would be to shackle the world of finance—which he described as his "main foe"—and raise taxes on the rich.

"Each country has a soul," Mr. Hollande told a 10,000-strong crowd of Socialist faithful gathered in the airport city of Le Bourget, near Paris. "And France's soul is equality."

Mr. Hollande, 57 years old, has a clear lead in opinion polls. If the first round of the presidential election had taken place Sunday, Mr. Hollande would have garnered 30% of the votes, according to a survey conducted by French opinion poll agency BVA on Wednesday and Thursday. Mr. Sarkozy would have garnered 23%. In a runoff, Mr. Hollande would have crushed the incumbent, with 57% of the votes.

However analysts said Mr. Hollande's lead has more to do with voters' dissatisfaction with Mr. Sarkozy than a liking for the Socialist leader, who has often been vague about his convictions.

To police the financial sector, Mr. Hollande said he would force banks to split their investment and retail operations. He said he would order banks to cut bonuses, and push through a tax on financial transactions.

Mr. Hollande, who is expected to present a more detailed program on Thursday, said he would reverse Mr. Sarkozy's fiscal policy by increasing taxes on high-earners. He said he would raise the higher income-tax bracket to 45% from 41% for households with annual revenue of €150,000, or about $194,000, or more.

Mr. Sarkozy's allies said Mr. Hollande was a prisoner of old-fashioned leftist ideology. "What struck me is that this speech could have been delivered, say, in the 1960s or 1970s," French Finance Minister François Baroin told French radio RTL. "It is not what France needs in 2012."

The Socialist candidate explained how he grew up in a conservative family in Normandy, gradually emancipated himself, and eventually adhered to the left's ideas.

Mr. Hollande sought to cast himself as an ordinary man, in contrast to Mr. Sarkozy—who has often been criticized for being too close to the wealthy.

"I want to conquer power, but I am not voracious," Mr. Hollande said. "I love people when others are fascinated by money."

Mr. Sarkozy has said that, unlike many French people,he has no complex about talking about money but has denied he is under the sway of the rich.

Mr. Hollande, a former Socialist Party chief, has never held a position in national government, and can only claim to have managed Corrèze, a largely depopulated region in central France.

A graduate of Ecole Nationale d'Administration, France's elite school for civil servants, his political career took off in 1981, when, as an economic adviser to then Socialist President François Mitterrand, he contributed to the implementation of a plan to nationalize the country's biggest companies and banks.

Write to Gabriele Parussini