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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 11:52 GMT
France's Royal woos left-wing voters
By Hugh Schofield
Paris

It was billed as the defining moment in Segolene Royal's campaign.

Segolene Royal
Segolene Royal stresses her readiness to listen to public opinion
After putting off for months the task of presenting a manifesto - as she engaged in lengthy "consultations" with the people - it was her chance to spell out what she will actually do if she becomes the country's first woman president in May.

Commentators said it was "double or quits".

Either she re-entered the race against Nicolas Sarkozy with a new spring in her step, or she was reduced to a lame shuffle in the rear.

So what did France learn from the Royal address before 15,000 Socialist Party delegates in Villepinte on Sunday?

And how likely are they to be swayed into voting for her in the two rounds on April 22 and May 6?

Party loyalist

The answer to the first question is that we now know Segolene Royal ... is a loyal member of the Socialist Party.

For every child born here, I want to accomplish what I wanted for my own children
Segolene Royal

For many months the candidate cultivated her distance from the party.

It was a clever idea, because it helped build a rapport with the public and allowed her to explore ideas that were taboo in the party establishment.

She even said she admired Tony Blair.

But there was little of this in her 100-point "presidential pact" - the document she revealed Sunday. Instead it bears remarkably close comparison with the Socialist Party's own programme, released last year.

Thus her call for a rise in the monthly minumum wage to 1,500 euros (1,000; $1,952) in the course of the next legislature is straight out of the PS programme, as is the proposal to increase low pensions by 5%.

It was a party idea to build 120,000 social housing units a year, to place a rental ceiling for low-income families at 25% of monthly revenue, and to punish councils that do not build their legal quota of public accommodation.

Reducing the country's reliance on nuclear power by increasing renewable energy sources to 20% of needs by 2020 is also a Socialist measure, as is the idea to provide free out-of-class coaching to all schoolchildren.

Segolene Royal launching manifesto, 11 Feb 07
Ms Royal needs to catch up with rival Sarkozy in the opinion polls
To this Ms Royal adds certain personal notes.

Her call for military-style camps for delinquents is there, but it has been toned down, so it is only a possibility.

She still favours "popular juries" to improve "participative democracy", but it is far from clear how they would work.

And she drew loud applause when she promised to "inject a bit of youth" into the state bureaucracy, which she said was "crumbling under the weight of the years, useless bureaucracries and over-complex reglementation."

But all-in-all, the Royal manifesto adopts the Socialist Party's own analysis of France's "crisis", which is that it can only be cured by the generous extension of the welfare state and an end - in Ms Royal's words - to "the untrammelled rule of the profit motive".

Left-wing values

In other words, it is an unmistakeably left-wing document, even by French standards, and certainly a million miles from anything under consideration in Britain or most other European countries for that matter.

As for the second question - will it work? - to that there is no answer. We shall see what the polls say in the coming days.

My guess is that there will be something of a lift, as Ms Royal comes back into the campaign limelight, though it may not last long.

Left-wing values have enormous resonance in France, and Ms Royal's talent has been to harness the desire for a better, fairer society with an attractive new style of politicking.

In her speech on Sunday she pressed all the right buttons, and the euphoric response of the crowd shows that there is a yearning among many in France, who want desperately to believe that they have found their saviour.

But in the coming days, critical eyes will be passed over her 100-point plan, and the calculators will start to tot up the cost.

Some are bound to ask: where was the unifying vision behind her programme? Was it really any more than a bewildering list of new hand-outs? Is a reworked Socialist manifesto all we get after three months of "consultations"?

She needs to have her answers ready.


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