Latest update: 23/01/2012
Hollande vows to 'change destiny of France'
Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande kickstarted his bid for the Elysée on Sunday with the first major speech of his campaign. Before a 15,000-strong crowd of supporters, Hollande said he was ready to serve the French people.
By Ben MCPARTLAND (text)
French presidential hopeful Francois Hollande vowed to “change the destiny of our country” when he delivered his first major speech on Sunday.
Hollande, 57, was greeted by thousands of flag-waving supporters at a conference hall in Le Bourget, a suburb in the north of Paris, as he held the first mass rally of his campaign.
Unveiling his vision for the future of France, the Socialist Party candidate said he was aware of the task he faced to lead the Left to victory and restore confidence in France.
“We are here, my friends, to change the destiny of our country. I am ready to take on this responsibility,” he said. “I want to take power, but I am not greedy. I simply want to serve the French people.”
In a jibe directed at his main rival for the Elysée, President Nicholas Sarkozy, Hollande said his real opponent was not the current president but the “world of finance”.
“In the battle about to begin, I will tell you who my real enemy is. My principle adversary has no name, it has no face and does not belong to a political party. It has never presented its candidature and has never been elected, but it still governs. This adversary is the world of finance.”
Hollande outlined the details of his presidential manifesto in a 75-minute speech in front of a passionate crowd, who gave him a rapturous ovation.
If elected he said he would reduce the salaries of the president and members of the government by 30 percent.
He also vowed to create a tax on financial transactions and promised to reduce the numbers of young people who leave schools in France without qualifications.
“It is for the youth of this country that I want to become the President of France. I will make education a real national priority,” he said.
Hollande also said he favoured an accelerated withdrawal of the 3,600 French troops currently deployed in Afghanistan.
Troops are due to return at the end of 2014, but Hollande wants to bring them home two years earlier.
“Leading this country means having to make difficult decisions, not simply reacting to a tragedy,” Hollande continued, referring to Sarkozy’s hasty threat to withdraw French troops after four were shot dead by an Afghan soldier on January 21, 2012. "Our mission in this current is finished."
Former Socialist Party Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Martine Aubry, whom Hollande defeated to become the Socialist Party candidate, were among the thousands of supporters who came to listen to his key speech.
Hollande leads current president Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls, but after a fairly low-key campaign, he has been under pressure to reassert for his advantage.
The honeymoon period Hollande enjoyed after being elected as the Socialist party candidate in open primaries held last October is well and truly over. His lead has slowly dwindled, although Sarkozy's own chances of re-election have been hindered by the battle to save France’s ailing economy.
FRANCE24 correspondent Luke Brown, who was among the crowd in Le Bourget, said Hollande was in “combative mood”.
“Hollande did not mention Nicolas Sarkozy once. That is telling, as he wants this campaign to be about him and not about Sarkozy,” said Brown.
Hollande is attempting to become the first Socialist Party president since Francoise Mitterrand, who led the country from 1981 to 1995.
Although he was the leader of his Party for over a decade until 2008, he has never served as a minister in a government office.
His chances of victory are currently being hampered by the rising popularity of France’s far-right National Front party under Marine le Pen, as well as support for centrist candidate Francois Bayrou.
Sunday’s rally marked the beginning of a key period for Hollande, for it was around this time in the previous presidential campaign in 2007 that socialists saw their chances of victory begin to slip away.
That year, the campaign of Socialist Party presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, was hobbled by divisions within her own party. This time around, however, Socialists are determined to present a united front.
“This has nothing in common with the campaign of 2007,” said Hollande’s spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told FRANCE 24. “The socialists were not united in 2007, which contributed greatly to the defeat. Today, everyone knows Hollande is in charge.”
The Socialist front runner will unveil a more detailed presidential program on January 26.
French voters will go to the polls for the first round of the presidential ballot on April 22, less than 100 days away.
The second round is set to take place on May 6.