Segolene Royal sticks up for UK's Tony Blair

2nd February 2006, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Feb 2, 2006 (AFP) - Ségolène Royal, a prospect to become France's first woman president, embraces some of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's policies in defiance of sentiment at home, she said in an interview published Thursday.

LONDON, Feb 2, 2006 (AFP) - Ségolène Royal, a prospect to become France's first woman president, embraces some of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's policies in defiance of sentiment at home, she said in an interview published Thursday.

"I think Tony Blair has been caricatured in France," said Royal, 52, who opinion polls show as the presidential front-runner for France's Socialist Party, in an interview with the Financial Times. "It does not bother me to claim adherence to some of his ideas."

Many people in France fear that Blair's support for free-market economics is aggressive "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism that will strip away the worker benefits and protections France is used to.

However, Royal, an environment minister under the late president François Mitterrand, said the policies Blair has pursued for the United Kingdom (UK) had been misunderstood on many fronts in France.

"He has reinvested in public services. On youth unemployment, he has had real success by using more flexibility but also more security," she said in the interview.

"Young graduates are better treated in the UK than in France, so it is not just for tax reasons that so many of our young are leaving France to go and work in the City of London," the leading financial center in Europe, Royal said.

"We must not be blocked on any issues — like the 35-hour week, for instance," Royal said.

But Britain's leading financial daily said Royal may "disappoint any overseas investors hoping she could become the acceptable face of French socialism, as her ideas seem to be equally inspired by" Mitterrand.

"How can the government cut public sector recruitment while the interior minister is calling for more police in schools, on trains and in the suburbs?" she asked.

She is also a critic of the current French center-right government's labor market reforms, giving small businesses and employers of young people more flexibility by allowing them to fire staff easily in the first two years of a contract.

Royal has surprised many of her own colleagues by the success of her so far unofficial campaign, with a series of opinion polls in the last few weeks showing her to be by a long margin the party's most popular politician.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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