Francois Bayrou stakes claim to the centre

4th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 2, 2006 (AFP) - François Bayrou, who Saturday announced his intention to run for the French presidency next year, is a staunch pro-European who sees a swing to the centre as the key to reform in France.

PARIS, Dec 2, 2006 (AFP) - François Bayrou, who Saturday announced his intention to run for the French presidency next year, is a staunch pro-European who sees a swing to the centre as the key to reform in France.

Bayrou, 55, has denounced the widely-predicted duel between the right-wing frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Ségolène Royal as a media circus, saying there is little to tell the two candidates apart.

Currently credited with six to 12 percent of voting intentions, the head of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) hopes to seduce many more voters disillusioned with the two, media-savvy main candidates.

Bayrou won 6.8 percent of the vote in the 2002 presidential election, but went on to lose many of his party's top figures to the newly-created Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), now headed by Sarkozy.

A junior partner in President Jacques Chirac's government — in which his party still holds the education ministry — Bayrou has distanced himself sharply from the UMP as the 2007 election draws near.

Last May he backed a Socialist censure motion against the government, which was embroiled in a political dirty tricks scandal. The motion was rejected but it marked a strong break between him and the government.

Married with six children and several grandchildren, Bayrou was born into a family of farmers in the southwestern Béarn region — a land of rugby, good food and clean mountain air which he chose to announce his candidacy Saturday.

Bayrou taught literature for five years before starting work as a political adviser. Elected deputy of the Pyrenées-Atlantique region in 1986, aged 34, he was returned to office twice, in 1993 and 1997.

In 1993, he became education minister, serving in two right-wing governments. "I still thought it was possible to change things from the inside," he says of that period.

He took the helm of the UDF — a party founded by the former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing — in 1998, a role in which he has advocated a combination of right-wing economic reform with demands for social justice.

Though a practising Roman Catholic, he is strongly attached to the separation of Church and state.

He claims to draw solace from time spent in his Pyrenees village of Bordères, where he has started breeding horses — thanks to the royalties from his first book, a biography of King Henri IV.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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