Hollande team confident of deal on growth pact for France and Ireland


FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE’S aides are satisfied that if he wins the French presidential election a compromise can be agreed on a European growth pact that would serve France and Ireland’s interests.

Mr Hollande, who leads incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in opinion polls going into the run-off tomorrow, has said if elected he will refuse to ratify the fiscal treaty without securing agreement on measures to promote growth and jobs.

Catherine Trautmann, Mr Hollande’s adviser on Europe, told The Irish Times the campaign was aware of “sensitivities” in Ireland given that the treaty was being put to a referendum on May 31st.

She said the campaign had made contact with the Irish authorities to offer reassurance about their plans.

“In this renegotiation, we are going to have to show a lot of political agility. The Irish have a lot of experience of this, so I think they’ll be able to help us,” she said.

Mr Hollande supports the treaty’s existing elements, including tight limits on budget deficits and public debt, but has said if elected he will write to EU governments next week seeking talks on his proposals.

The Government says the French election should not disrupt the referendum because any new growth measures would not have “constitutional consequences” for Ireland.

On the options for renegotiation, Ms Trautmann said the socialist was open to discussions with EU partners. “We can see how these . . . questions can be addressed, whether within the framework of a treaty, a protocol, a regulation or a political decision,” she added.

The adviser said Mr Hollande’s campaign team respected Ireland’s democratic process and “it would not be for us to say how the Irish should vote on the pact”.

“If the Irish government says, ‘we have ratified but we support François Hollande’s growth pact’, things will be possible from that point,” said Ms Trautmann, who was minister for culture and communications in France’s last socialist administration.

On the final day of the official campaign yesterday, Mr Sarkozy made an appeal to a “silent majority” of French voters to save him from a defeat that would make him only the second president to be denied re-election since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958.

Mr Hollande’s lead has narrowed in recent days, but his supporters hope his strong performance in the televised debate on Wednesday and an endorsement from the centrist François Bayrou, who won 9 per cent of the vote in the first round, will be enough to secure victory for him.

The socialist candidate has led the incumbent in every opinion poll for the past year, leaving him well-placed to become the first left-wing president of France since François Mitterrand left office in 1995.

At his final campaign rally in the west coast resort of Les Sables d’Olonne, Mr Sarkozy told flag-waving supporters they could still achieve a sensational turnaround tomorrow.

“The French people have never been so insulted, hounded and manipulated as in recent weeks,” he said. “The silent majority should not have to put up with insults, intolerance and lack of respect.”

He poured scorn on Mr Bayrou, a one-time minister in a right-wing government, accusing him of betraying his principles to support a tax-and-spend socialist who would drive public finances to ruin.

Despite his lead, Mr Hollande warned his supporters against complacency, urging a massive turnout that would give the socialists momentum to win National Assembly elections in June.

“I want a large victory,” he said. “The French must give the winner the means to act.

“Do not leave a hobbled victor who will have problems from the day after the vote.”

Mr Hollande’s campaign has had informal contacts with officials in Berlin and Frankfurt, home of the European Central Bank, in recent weeks.

If elected, he plans to visit the German capital to discuss his plans for a growth pact with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Pierre Moscovici, Mr Hollande’s campaign manager, said that while the trip would be mostly a symbolic exercise to show Franco-German relations were intact, it would also allow him quickly to impress his pro-growth ideas on his German counterpart.

“I think there’s a possibility for a new European compromise, which will happen via a new Franco-German understanding,” said Mr Moscovici.

If Mr Sarkozy were to win, he would confound all six major polling companies and could claim the most spectacular comeback in modern French political history.

“In our polls, we have no indicators which suggest that Nicolas Sarkozy could be ahead of François Hollande,” said Brice Teinturier of Ipsos.

His agency’s last poll put Mr Hollande in the lead with 52.5 per cent.

Projections of the result, based on a partial vote count, will be published once the last polling stations close at 8pm.