LONDON (Reuters) - France’s Socialist presidential frontrunner Francois Hollande sought to reassure the financial sector during a visit to London on Wednesday he was not “dangerous” but insisted more regulation of banks was needed to build a fairer society.
Hollande, who leads French President Nicolas Sarkozy in opinion polls ahead of the two-round April-May election, was in London to meet opposition Labor leader Ed Miliband and seek support from some 150,000 French nationals living in the capital.
Hollande sent shockwaves through the City of London - Europe’s largest financial centre - in January by declaring the world of finance his adversary and pledging to hike taxes on big companies and the rich, as he seeks to shore up support with the left of his party.
“I am not dangerous, but we need regulation. We need settlements in favor of finance that support the real economy,” Hollande, speaking in English, told Reuters as he stepped off the Eurostar train at St. Pancras station.
He did not meet anyone from the City during his brief trip.
Whereas Sarkozy, who has good relations with British Prime Minister David Cameron, is running on a platform of structural reforms, Hollande says he will rely on tax increases on business and the wealthy to fund more spending on job creation and education.
He fired a broadside at France’s wealthy elite on Monday saying he would tax annual income above 1 million euros ($1.34 mln) at a new 75 percent top marginal rate.
The current top income tax rate is 41 percent, plus a 3 percent tax surcharge on those earning over 500,000 euros introduced last year.
After holding talks with Miliband, Hollande said he was “not at all angry” Cameron had not met with him, stressing he preferred to share ideas with like-minded politicians on the economy and on Europe.
Hollande said he had the support of left-wing governments in Belgium and Denmark and did not need support from what he called “the most conservative governments in Europe,” after the German, British and Spanish leaders backed Sarkozy.
“We cannot bolster the real economy unless we have a financial sector which is an economic driver, and not one which is using the economy to make exorbitant profits,” he said.
“FRANCOIS THE PINK”
Sarkozy has narrowed Hollande’s lead somewhat since announcing his candidacy two weeks ago. A poll published on Tuesday gave the president 27 percent of the first-round vote versus Hollande’s 31.5 percent. The Socialist retains a wide lead in voting intentions for the May 6 runoff.
Over lunch with Miliband, Hollande discussed his push to renegotiate a new European fiscal discipline treaty - spearheaded by Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in January, but rejected by Cameron - to add clauses on growth and solidarity.
Rather than being thought of as “Red” he’d prefer to be seen as “Francois the Pink,” he told journalists afterwards.
Britain’s Labor Party and France’s Socialists have not always seen eye-to-eye, but Miliband said he had had a fruitful discussion with Hollande and that the two shared many ideas.
“I’ve been very impressed by the energy and dynamism he’s shown in his campaign,” he said.
Hollande says he does not want to pick apart the treaty, which enshrines semi-automatic sanctions on deficit sinners, but some EU diplomats are nervous his tinkering could delay a resolution of Europe’s debt crisis.
Some 300,000 French nationals live in Britain, 150,000 of them in London, part of an worldwide expatriate community that has doubled in 15 years to 2.5 million people.
While less than one-in-two has voted in the past, 1.1 million are registered to vote in the upcoming election, up from 800,000 in 2007, and both left and right are eager to raise turnout. At legislative elections in June, France will for the first time elect lower house deputies to represent citizens abroad.
“We’ve had only one Socialist president since 1958,” Hollande told some 200 expatriates in central London. “My mission is to enable the new generation to relive the thrill of having the left in power.”
Socialist supporters mobbed him as he returned to St Pancras station, seeking autographs and photographs with the candidate.
“My family has always been Socialist. I made an exception last time and voted for Sarkozy but I see now it hasn’t worked,” said Murielle Gamblin. “Now I am voting Hollande because I truly believe if he does what he says my children will live better.”
($1 = 0.7476 euros)
Editing By Alexandria Sage and Paul Taylor