France’s socialist contenders expose deep divisions in TV debate

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Presidential hopefuls quarrelled over legacy of the deeply unpopular presidency of François Hollande, who ruled out a re-election bid last month.

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The seven candidates for France’s centre-left presidential nomination showed their profound differences on the economy and the EU on Thursday night even as they scramble to pull together a fractured Socialist Party ahead of a widely expected crushing defeat in the spring, reports the Financial Times.

A little more than a week before the first round of primary elections, the presidential hopefuls quarrelled on primetime television over the legacy of the deeply unpopular presidency of François Hollande, who ruled out a re-election bid last month.

Arnaud Montebourg, former economy minister, and Benoît Hamon, former education minister, directed implicit jabs at Manuel Valls, the former prime minister. Both were ousted from government by Mr Valls in 2014 and inspired a parliamentary rebellion against his business-friendly reforms.

Asked to describe Mr Hollande’s term, Mr Montebourg, from the left of the party, judged his term as “hard to defend”. Mr Hamon expressed disappointment, saying the socialist presidency had left him with a “taste of unfinished business”.

Vincent Peillon, a former education minister and latecomer to the race, took aim at the government’s “brutality” that had “fuelled divisions” — a clear reference to Mr Valls’ use of a constitutional clause to force through legislation without the consent of parliament.

On the defensive, the former premier sought to emphasise his experience in dealing with an unprecedented wave of Islamist terror attacks, calling for a united front against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centre-right politician François Fillon, who are predicted to face each other in the runoff round of the presidential elections on 7 May.

Read more of this report from the Financial Times.

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