François Hollande holds out olive branch to City of London

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The Independent Online

The man who may be the next President of France said yesterday that he wants Britain – even the City of London – to feel "part of Europe".

François Hollande, the Socialist front-runner in this spring's presidential election, will visit London at the end of the month to speak to the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, and possibly to the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

In a meeting over lunch with a group of British and American journalists yesterday, Mr Hollande held out a cluster of olive branches to Britain – and to the Labour Party. "We need a Great Britain that will take its place in Europe," Mr Hollande said. If elected President on 6 May, he said, he would try to mend some of the bridges damaged in recent weeks.

Despite his pledge last month to make "big finance" his enemy, he said the City of London need not fear a François Hollande presidency. His ideas for financial regulation and promotion of growth were similar, he said, to those outlined by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address in January.

In a departure from the usual French Socialist denigration of Tony Blair's New Labour experiment, Mr Hollande paid tribute to some aspects of the Blairist legacy and its lessons for the rest of the European centre-left. He said that Mr Blair was "a very intelligent man", who had "shown the way" to other left-wing parties in Europe.

He also praised Mr Blair's non-ideological, "whatever-works-best" approach and his "success in rebuilding the health and education systems in Britain after long years of conservatism". Mr Blair's "great mistake", he said, was to "swallow the dangerous idea that markets could always regulate themselves".

Mr Hollande, 57, is favourite to win the two-round French presidential election on 22 April and 6 May. He said yesterday that he expected a "noisy" and "aggressive" campaign after President Nicolas Sarkozy formally joins the race, possibly today or tomorrow.

Mr Hollande, sometimes accused of being dull and evasive, was fluent, chatty and humorous. He fielded questions on subjects from Syria to Greece and the EU fiscal discipline pact, which he has pledged to "amend" to introduce a new chapter on growth-creation.

On 29 February, Mr Hollande will visit London to address French voters. He will meet Mr Miliband and has requested a meeting with Mr Cameron. "We need Great Britain to feel part of Europe," Mr Hollande said. "But at the same time, (David Cameron's) attempt to create a sanctuary from regulation for the City of London is not acceptable."

Mr Cameron will be travelling to Paris on Friday for a delayed Anglo-French summit – his first one-on-one meeting with President Sarkozy since the Brussels row in December.