Montebourg steals show in French left's primary

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 10, 2011 1:44 PM
Montebourg steals show in French left's primary

PARIS (Reuters) - French Socialist Arnaud Montebourg was eliminated in round one of his party's presidential primary Sunday, but his campaign against globalization, greedy banks and trash TV was such a hit that mainstream leftists may ignore it at their peril.

A 48-year-old lawyer and member of parliament, Montebourg scored a surprise 17 percent in Sunday's vote after proposing during televised Socialist Party debates to put banks on a tight leash and ramp up protectionism.

He chalked up three times the score pollsters forecast -- a warning to left-wing favorites Francois Hollande and Martine Aubry, and to conservatives, that today's economic climate could boost the appeal of leftist hardliners in the 2012 race.

Montebourg's main proposition is that it is time to do away with the idea that France has no choice but to compete with the likes of China on prices when the latter is unbeatable because of lower social and environmental standards.

At a time when European governments are under pressure to yet again bail out the financial industry, Montebourg has struck a chord in proposing that banks be brought to heel by having the state buy stakes in them and put vote-wielding government officials on their boards.

"All those who have lost out from globalization have heard the proposals for a new France," Montebourg said Sunday.

Political analysts said Monday that Montebourg's high score made the October 16 second round much harder to call and that Hollande and Aubry could not afford to ignore his appeal.

In the 2002 presidential election, far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen took France by surprise when he knocked out mainstream Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in round one. Alarmed left-wingers then had to vote for conservative Jacques Chirac in the runoff to ensure Le Pen's defeat.

Montebourg, grandson of a butcher, met another defeated left-winger, Segolene Royal, Monday although his spokesman said that did not necessarily mean the two would stand behind one candidate for the runoff primary next Sunday.

Montebourg has also come out against reality TV shows, which are gaining a big following in France, and has dedicated a space on his blog to making clear that despite his dapper appearance, he does not have aristocratic roots.