Press warns Socialists lurching too far to the Left

21st November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 21 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialists on Monday celebrated their weekend success in mending divisions ahead of the 2007 presidential elections, although newspapers warned the party against lurching too far to the left.

PARIS, Nov 21 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialists on Monday celebrated their weekend success in mending divisions ahead of the 2007 presidential elections, although newspapers warned the party against lurching too far to the left.

The Socialists managed to bury their differences during a three-day congress in western France, raising the party's hopes of reshaping itself into a real contender in the 2007 vote.

"Today, the French people know that change is possible in 2007, with a strong Socialist party, a left capable of rallying together, a project for France," party leader François Hollande told RTL radio on Monday.

"If I have brought the Socialist party together, it is to be useful -- not to the party, nor to the left -- but to France," said Hollande, who looked certain to win a new mandate on Wednesday after rallying members behind him.

Rival factions in the party, bitterly divided over a May referendum on the European constitution, put aside their divisions better to challenge President Jacques Chirac's government and conservative ruling UMP party.

The common platform, adopted by an overwhelming majority of party delegates, included a number of high-profile concessions to the party's hard left.

It includes pledges to increase the minimum wage, make it harder for profitable companies to lay off staff, and reverse the part privatisation of the utility giant Electricité de France.

The left-leaning newspaper Libération commented that "the party's epicentre has now moved markedly left of its original positions", even as the government has shifted rightwards with a tough law-and-order response to the weeks of rioting around the country.

Le Figaro criticised the proposals as a "facade of unity" and said the party had made a "lurch to the left" out of step with global economic realities.

"A ban on stock market-driven layoffs... Next will be a ban on bird flu or tsunamis," the conservative newspaper scoffed in an editorial.

Le Figaro lamented the absence in France of a centre-left capable of tackling tough labour market reforms, on the model of Britain's New Labour or Germany's Social Democrats.

"We still cannot see rising from (the Socialists') ranks a statesman capable of opposing the old guard with modern reformist arguments," it argued.

Hollande is one of half a dozen Socialist figures aiming to succeed Chirac in the elections.

Others include Laurent Fabius, who led a breakaway faction in opposing the European constitution in defiance of the party mainstream and was subsequently sidelined from the party leadership.

Fabius emerged as one of the winners of the weekend congress, which allowed him back into the party fold well ahead of the Socialist nominations for the presidential elections, set for November 2006.

The Socialist Party has been struggling to present a coherent alternative to the government, ever since the last presidential elections in 2002, when its candidate, then-prime minister Lionel Jospin, was embarrassingly knocked into third place by extreme-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Chirac ended up easily winning those elections and his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) triumphed in the following parliamentary polls.

The party was thrown into further disarray by the French rejection of the European constitution referendum, which Fabius' faction helped to defeat.

Now, with both presidential and legislative elections due to take place in 2007, the Socialists are trying to pick themselves up.

At the congress, Hollande accused the government of exploiting the recent weeks of rioting in France to push a tough law-and-order agenda ahead of the 2007 elections.

The Socialists called for a "radical change of policy" in poor suburbs, where the violence erupted.

But their proposed measures on community policing, prevention of delinquency, community service and anti-discrimination plans looked remarkably similar to those put forward by the government in the wake of the unrest.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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