François Hollande, the favourite to be the next French President, jumped the gun yesterday, giving what seemed like his first presidential press conference.
In terms of tone, comments and statesmanlike pose, the Socialist front-runner appeared to be in no doubt about who would win the second round of the presidential election. He promised a "friendly but firm" meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel the day after the elections. He condemned what he described as President Nicolas Sarkozy's "headlong race" after the "ideas and the words" of the far-right National Front.
He warned that he would refuse to ratify the European Union's austerity pact "in its present form". In response to a question from the i, he also offered a possible solution to a likely confrontation over the pact next month between a Merkel-led Germany and a Hollande-led France. He suggested that it might be possible to leave the treaty alone if everyone could agree another text based on his own "increasingly widely held ideas" that the EU must create new policies to kick-start growth.
He said he would send a four-point letter outlining these ideas to all EU leaders in the week after his election, "if I am elected". In an apparent shift in policy, he said this package should include "euro bonds" issued by the European Central Bank but they should be used to finance European infrastructure schemes, not to "buy up" sovereign debt. A press conference by a presidential candidate between the two rounds of an election is unheard of in France. So, was this an act of hubris? Maybe. But the latest polls do put him eight to 10 points ahead in the second round on 6 May.
Promising to be a "normal president", Mr Hollande was at pains not to seem arrogant. He promised to be a different kind of head of state than Mr Sarkozy: more accessible and more accountable. He has also pledged to travel on presidential business in France by train, rather than in the luxurious jet known as "Air Sarko One".
In sum, he managed to imply that he and Mr Sarkozy had already exchanged roles. He was the statesman, offering France "consistency", "calm", "unity" and "hope".
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