PARIS (Reuters) - Socialist candidate Segolene Royal denounced unfettered capitalism on Wednesday, looking to boost her lacklustre presidential campaign by presenting herself as the defender of social justice in France.
Conservative frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy has headed every opinion poll since the start of the year, and Socialist party insiders say Royal will focus primarily on social issues to try to revive her ratings ahead of the April 22 first round vote.
Royal directed her ire at aircraft maker Airbus, which is cutting 10,000 jobs across Europe after disastrous delays to a super jumbo project while at the same time giving an ex-manager a multi-million euro “golden parachute” payout.
“We have to end this ultra-liberal system, put in place by the policies of the right wing government, that ensures it’s always the employees who pay for the problems of companies and management errors,” Royal told France 2 television.
“If I am elected president of the republic, in firms where the state is a shareholder, the state will exercise its responsibilities,” she said.
Centre-right candidate Francois Bayrou, who is lying just behind Royal in the polls, has also decided to target big business, denouncing “thuggish bosses” who failed to protect their employees in times of economic difficulty.
Royal has built her campaign around 100 proposals that focus heavily on social affairs, promising hikes to the minimum wage and low pensions, and state intervention in the economy.
However, she has not yet explained how she will finance her big-spending programme and has low credibility-ratings, with 67 percent of voters expecting Sarkozy to win the election, according to an opinion poll released on Tuesday.
“Let’s be frank. Royal’s campaign has not been the best,” left-leaning newspaper Liberation wrote in an editorial on Wednesday. “Scepticism is appearing in Socialist ranks.”
Sarkozy is promising a peaceful transformation of France, which has the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone and chalked up a record trade deficit in 2006.
Although many people say they are deterred by his hard rhetoric and uncompromising manner, polls say most voters think he is best placed to tackle security and immigration concerns — two issues that regularly dominate political debate in France.
Looking to make his own mark in the campaign, far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen questioned Sarkozy’s credentials to lead France, saying that as the son of a Hungarian immigrant, he was not a pure-blooded Frenchman.
“It’s like if you invite someone into your home and he immediately sits down in grandfather’s armchair. It’s a question of delicacy,” said Le Pen, who shocked France by coming second in the 2002 election and is lying fourth in the polls now.
Sarkozy accused Le Pen of trying to stir up a controversy rather than focus on policies.
He also dismissed a newspaper report that he planned to push through an amnesty if elected to spare outgoing leader Jacques Chirac from graft probes that have been put on ice while he enjoyed presidential immunity.
The satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine said Sarkozy had agreed the deal in exchange for Chirac’s public blessing for his presidential bid. Questioned by journalists Sarkozy said: “I deny (the report) in the most firm and complete terms.”
Additional reporting by James Mackenzie, Gerard Bon and Emmanuel Jarry