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French Left-Wing Candidates Take Risky Stance: Pro-Europe

Polls suggest Le Pen may face conservative candidate Francois Fillon in the presidential runoff

In this March 13, 2013 photo, then French Education Minister Vincent Peillon leaves the Elysee Palace after the weekly cabinet meeting, in Paris, photo: AP/Thibault Camus
9 months ago

Two men hoping to clinch the left-wing nomination for France’s presidential race are pursuing a risky strategy: They want to save the much-maligned European Union.

Manuel Valls and Vincent Peillon laid out their platforms Tuesday, pleading for unity and tolerance in the face of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration, anti-EU campaign.

Valls and Peillon are among seven candidates in the leftist primary Jan. 22 and 29, seeking a nomination that looks like a poisoned chalice. Polls suggest the mainstream left’s candidate in France’s April-May election may not even make it past the first round of voting amid mass disappointment with Socialist Francois Hollande’s presidency.

Both men sought Tuesday to distance themselves from the Socialists’ troubles — and to revive support for the EU. That may prove a hard sell in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the EU and amid frustration across the continent with a union seen as elitist and bogged down in bureaucracy.

Valls, a Spanish-born former prime minister, called himself “profoundly European” and said the solution to disillusionment with the EU is to “re-found” and defend it, notably with higher taxes on imports from outside Europe’s single market.

He called for a suspension in EU enlargement and tougher external borders, saying, “European civilization … should start and end somewhere.”

After two years marred by deadly extremist attacks, Valls also said he would create 1,000 more police and gendarme jobs every year.

Peillon, a European Parliament member and former education minister, listed Europe as No. 2 of six broad campaign strategies. He called for a Europe-wide minimum wage and tax policies, and an unspecified new “financial instrument” to help Europe pay for migration policy.

“The year 2017 puts us before a clear choice: dismantle Europe, or rebuild it,” his campaign manifesto says. “And if Europe comes undone, France will come undone too.”

Le Pen, who wants to reinstate French borders and hold a referendum on leaving the EU, praised Russia on BFM television Tuesday for defending its national interests and said France should do the same.

Polls suggest Le Pen may face conservative candidate Francois Fillon in the presidential runoff. Fillon, a former prime minister, wants a more modest and “realistic” EU and calls in his campaign platform for “a sovereign France in a Europe respectful of nations.”

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