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François Hollande to woo City on London visit

Exclusive: French presidential frontrunner François Hollande to use visit to try to allay fears caused by his manifesto launch

French presidential frontrunner François Hollande will seek to reassure the City of London during a visit to London next month after being accused of “political vindictiveness” towards Britain’s financial heart.

The Socialist party candidate will begin a cross-Channel charm offensive aimed at calming growing tensions and re-establishing entente cordiale amid accusations that he has it in for Britain’s banks and financial institutions.

The 24-hour visit is pencilled in for the end of February, and although details have not yet been finalised, Hollande’s advisors say he will “almost certainly” meet Ed Miliband and that he also hopes to talk to David Cameron.

“François Hollande is certainly not the bogeyman who has the City of London in his sights,” a member of his campaign team said.

“I suspect this is some chicanery from the right to misconstrue his proposals, because there is no anti-City crusade in what he is proposing. He has said he wants financial institutions to be better regulated, but he is only saying what others, including Barack Obama and the Financial Times are saying … that having saved the banks in 2008 they should not be speculating on countries and stopping them from getting back on their feet.”

The advisor, who did not wish to be named, added: “The world of finance has to go back to its primary role which should be to finance the real economy and not speculate. Even some great capitalists and fans of the free market agree with this.”

Hollande sparked concern in Britain with the launch his 60-point manifesto last week, when he said he was prepared to tear up and rewrite the EU fiscal treaty to impose more financial rigour on member states. He said its emphasis on austerity would aggravate the economic crisis.

He also said he wanted to increase taxes on bank profits, ban banks operating in tax havens, and end “toxic” investments and stock options. French banks, he said, would be forced to separate their retail from their “speculative operations”.


London mayor Boris Johnson told the Times: “I don’t want to interfere in French domestic politics, but we want to prevent the French making a mistake that would damage the UK economy. It is important that a vital part of the UK services industry should not be damaged by reason of short-term political vindictiveness.”

As the spat was relayed in the French press – “Hollande angers the City”, “The City of London very upset by François Hollande” – members of his campaign team were keen to allay fears that their candidate had Britain’s financial institutions in his sights.

“Even City of London people agree with his idea of separating banks private and speculative investment operations,” said another member of Hollande’s campaign team.

Unveiling his election manifesto, Hollande, who is currently leading the opinion polls for the two-round presidential election in April and May, also said would defend the EU’s common agricultural policy to protect French farmers – another sticky point between Britain and France.

During his planned visit Hollande will also attempt to win over the estimated 400,000 French voters living in London, who have leaned to the right in the past. For the first time French people in the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic states have been given their own northern Europe constituency.

With so many French residents, London is considered France’s sixth largest city and has been nicknamed Paris-on-Thames. During his 2007 presidential election campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy staged an unprecedented rally in London in which he urged people to return home.

“France is still your country even if you are disappointed by it,” he told them.

Hollande’s campaign advisor said the Socialist party candidate hoped to improve relations between France and Britain.

“Sadly Franco-British relations have been damaged by tensions between David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy,” he said.

“François Hollande wants to go to London because the UK is an important partner in the construction of Europe … and even if your newspapers are a bit quick to jump and be hard on him, I think maybe the British would like to see him, non?” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds