The leading candidate for the French presidency, François Hollande, has laid out plans to add new elements to the European Union fiscal treaty but left the door open to a compromise if he wins the election.
Mr Hollande, who leads president Nicolas Sarkozy in opinion polls 10 days before the run-off, said if elected he would not ratify the treaty unless a deal was agreed on measures to promote jobs and economic growth.
He also indicated that the result of Ireland’s referendum should not be taken for granted.
Mr Sarkozy said.today there would be "no turning back" on Europe's targets to cut its budget deficits. The president, speaking on France Inter radio, said France has managed to cut its state deficit faster than targeted without austerity measures such as cutting civil servant pay or pension payments.
He said the government should focus on increased job training and industrial innovation to boost growth, not higher spending.
The treaty, which will be voted upon on May 31st, obliges member states to keep budget deficits and public debts within tight limits.
“There will be a renegotiation,” Mr Hollande said. “Will the treaty be changed? I hope so. Or another treaty arranged? That is up for negotiation. But the treaty, as is, will not be ratified.”
Mr Hollande noted that three countries had already ratified the pact, but added: “We don’t know the result of the [Irish] referendum. And you know, at times Ireland has been capable of saying No.”
The socialist candidate, who won the first round of the election last Sunday, said if elected on May 6th he would write to EU governments to propose four new elements to boost growth.
He wanted jointly issued "project bonds" to fund infrastructure and jobs, and a boost in funding for the European Investment Bank.
He also called for a financial transaction tax levied by like-minded countries to help fund youth and education projects and a more efficient use of EU regional development funds.
While endorsing the centrepiece of the stability treaty – an obligation to write a balanced-budget rule into national laws – Mr Hollande said budget discipline alone would not bring about recovery. “Budgetary responsibility? Yes. Austerity for life? No,” he said.
Concerning relations with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has supported Mr Sarkozy in the election, Mr Hollande said he would have “firm and friendly” talks with her. “But Germany must understand that it is growth that will allow us to resolve a large share of the problems,” he added.
Meanwhile, as campaigning intensified ahead of the referendum, it emerged that Taoiseach Enda Kenny has embarked on a series of 7am meetings with Fine Gael TDs and Senators to discuss the progress of the party’s referendum campaign.
The issue was discussed at a parliamentary party meeting which was addressed by Mr Kenny and the party’s director of elections for the referendum, Simon Coveney.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar predicted a very stark scenario for the State in the event of a No vote.
“It is likely to mean deeper, quicker and more brutal austerity and no scope for stimulus at all,” he told the Seanad.
Mr Varadkar said he was “sympathetic” to the calls of trade unions and other political groups for a stimulus plan. “In my view, however, a No vote on May 31st would undermine our aspiration of getting a stimulus programme in place precisely because it will heighten uncertainty about Ireland’s commitment to the euro.”
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams portrayed those advocating a Yes vote as coming from “a Thatcherite and Reaganite right-wing, conservative ideological position”.
IDA Ireland chief executive Barry O’Leary has called for a Yes vote in the referendum.
In an opinion article in today’s Irish Times, he says global companies come to Ireland because they view it as a gateway to the wider European market.