Royal launches manifesto for presidency

12th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

VILLEPINTE, France, Feb 11, 2007 (AFP) - France's socialist champion Segolene Royal launched her presidential manifesto Sunday, promising a generous package of welfare measures aimed at the most vulnerable in society.

VILLEPINTE, France, Feb 11, 2007 (AFP) - France's socialist champion Segolene Royal launched her presidential manifesto Sunday, promising a generous package of welfare measures aimed at the most vulnerable in society.

In a speech before 15,000 Socialist Party (PS) delegates, Royal announced a 100-point "presidential pact" including promises to increase the minimum wage, boost social housing, invest in renewable energy sources and "consolidate" the 35-hour-week.

"No longer will politics be conducted without you, the people," she said to rapturous applause and foot-stamping at the exhibition centre near Paris.

"I want, today, to give back hope and courage to the weakest. To all I say that the time of imagination and daring has arrived. I will forget no-one because France -- in order to recover -- needs every man and woman," she said.

Her two-hour address was frequently interrupted by whoops and chants of "President, President" from a crowd anxious to believe that the candidate, who has been slipping badly in the polls, is poised to make an aggressive comeback against right-wing rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

Royal took a major risk by delaying her manifesto while she held three months of "consultations" via the Internet and thousands of open-door "participative debates." Critics accused her of populism, but she said it was vital to reestablish links with a disillusioned electorate.

"The cries of silent distress, the poor broken lives, the humiliated families ravaged by misery and injustice ... all this inspired me to propose the policies of change which alone are capable of surmounting the crisis," she said.

At the end of the speech, activists unveiled the campaign's new slogan: "A fairer France for a stronger France."

Royal's exhaustive list was heavily influenced by the PS's own manifesto -- a left-wing document that was released last year.

The minimum wage should be increased to 1,500 euros (1,950 dollars) from its current rate of around 1,250 euros "as early as possible in the next legislature", while basic pensions should go up by five percent, she said.

She called for 120,000 new social housing units to be built every year, the right for local councils to requisition properties that are empty for more than two years, and penalities for councils that fail to construct their legal quota of social accommodation.

She called for negotiations to "consolidate" the 35-hour-week and "reduce its negative impact on workers and employees"; state control of bank charges. Royal said renewable energy sources should account for 20 percent of consumption by 2020 with reduced reliance on the nuclear sector.

Two ideas that created controversy in the party when she aired them last year were also included -- albeit in imprecise terms.

Vowing to keep under-age offenders out of prison, she called for "reinforced educational centres, if necessary with a military structure" for young delinquents. She also said "citizens' juries" should be introduced to extend "participative democracy" in the community.

Royal's speech was widely billed as a defining moment in the campaign, and popular response to her proposals in the coming days will determine whether she has succeeded in regenerating momentum behind her flagging campaign.

The candidate emerged from nowhere last year to become France's most popular socialist, seducing the electorate with smiling good looks and a soft-focus campaigning style that bypassed the party machinery.

But she has been badly hit since the New Year by a series of diplomatic gaffes and signs of poor coordination between her team and party central office. Polls now consistently show her between four and six percentage points behind Sarkozy.

Sarkozy's campaign team hit back at Royal's manifesto, describing it in a statement as a "catalogue of measures which express no overall policy capable of creating growth and employment ... One has the impression that the 'partipative debates' were simply used to buy time."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Presidential election, Segolene Royal

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