Edouard Balladur, the French Prime Minister, launched his bid for the presidency yesterday with an programme reflecting a mixture of leftist and rightist themes. He promised more equality and fraternity but failed to answer the question of how a budget deficit fuelled by rising social expenditure might be tackled.
Although Europe figured only fifth in his six-point manifesto, Mr Balladur said that France had to become the EU driving force. He set three priorities - the first being a single currency in 1997. The others were renewal of EU institutions and a common European defence policy.
Challenged on whether France could achieve the economic conditions to join a single currency, Mr Balladur expressed confidence that he would succeed in cutting the deficit and stabilising the franc sufficiently in the time available.
Expressing concern about growing divisions in society, he stressed the importance of equal opportunities, greater access to higher education and measures to combat unemployment, and promised to initiate a dialogue between state and citizens to engage them more fully in the way the country was run.
He promised more money for pensioners, a special allowance for first- time house-buyers, and no cuts in social security. But he skated over the budget-deficit problem, saying that it would be tackled as a priority.
Presenting his manifesto at a news conference in Paris - with the backdrop of his election slogan: "Believing in France" - Mr Balladur undertook to hold a referendum on constitutional reform within six months of becoming president, and further referendums on matters of public concern. One of his constitutional proposals is that future presidents should be restricted to one seven-year term of office, rather than the present two. This will not satisfy many, especially on the left, however, who want to reduce the term to five years, with a maximum of two consecutive terms. Pressure for reform has increased because of the spectacle of President Franois Mitterrand, 14 years in power, old and terminally ill.
Mr Balladur had clearly been expertly advised and his presentation seemed at pains to "correct" many points identified by his opponents as weaknesses. He admitted that there was a political difficulty in an incumbent prime minister running for president. He spoke of "unemployed men and women" and "young French men and women" - the Socialists accused him of always talking impersonally about "unemployment" and "the young", and - as though answering a Socialist charge that he regarded the election result as a foregone conclusion - he slipped in the thought that "no one has a monopoly on the future".
As always, he was immaculately turned out in the dark suit of impeccable cut, white shirt and silk tie that have become the Balladur look. So familiar are they now that the left-of-centre Libration published pictures of the details of the knot of his tie, his wristwatch, the style of his shoe, the depth of the trouser turn-up, the quality of the sock - with a style assessment. One expert called it "a suit of armour to protect him from the eyes of others and from himself".
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