French left candidates seek to bridge policy gulf before election

Fri Feb 17, 2017 8:34am EST
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By Elizabeth Pineau and John Geddie

PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - The two main left-leaning candidates in France's presidential election are holding talks on possible cooperation, in a move that would require them to reconcile some major policy differences but could possibly put one of them in contention.

If Socialist Benoit Hamon and Jean-Luc Melenchon, of the hard left, agreed to team up, opinion polls suggest their combined vote might provide the Left with a chance of going through to face the far-right's Marine Le Pen in the May 7 second round of voting.

"We are having discussions and we will continue to have discussions," said Hamon, the 49-year old former education minister who beat more right-leaning candidates for the Socialist ticket in January.

"We have talked and we will talk again today," he said on France Info radio, acknowledging talks would be "difficult".

Melenchon's camp on Friday released text of a letter to Hamon in which the 65-year-old veteran leftist said the talks were at his initiative, but which also set out conditions.

In the letter, Melenchon did not go out of his way to raise hopes of success, adding that he "no longer had any confidence in hollow deals between political parties."

Among his conditions was that Hamon should denounce the five-year term of the governing Socialists he represents and support his anti-EU and anti-NATO positions - policies unacceptable to the party of outgoing President Francois Hollande.

Melenchon, who quit the Socialist party in 2008 to form his Left party and has won the backing of the Communists for the presidential vote, has repeatedly said he will not step down as an independent candidate in favour of Hamon. His letter showed no softening of this position.   Continued...

French Socialist party 2017 presidential candidate Benoit Hamon attends a news conference to present his campaign team for the forthcoming Presidential elections in Paris, France, February 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer