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French press review Press review Primary elections Socialist Party BenoƮt Hamon Manuel Valls

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French press review 23 January 2017

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Yesterday's first round in the left-wing primary to choose a presidential candidate has at least this to be said for it _ it leaves less room in the papers for whingeing about Donald Trump.


The primary produced another surprise for the unfortunate opinion pollsters, with Benoît Hamon, a rebel former minister and enthusiast for the idea of a universal basic income, finishing first, five clear points ahead of pre-vote favourite, Manuel Valls.

Fewer than two million people showed up at the polling stations, compared to 2.6 million the last time the Socialists did this sort of thing, and more than 4.5 million for the recent right-wing exercise that saw François Fillon emerge victoroius.

Le Monde looks at the policies of the two men who will now face off in next Sunday's second and decisive vote.

What does Hamon stand for?

On Europe Hamon wants a suspension of the Union's budgetary rules, while Valls is in favour of keeping the budget deficit at three percent of what the country can produce, as demanded by Brussels.

This, of course, was at the centre of the row which saw Hamon resign from the government: he's against austerity, believing that France needs more breathing room to get the national economy ticking over, rather than following the line laid down by Europe.

Hamon is convinced the country can accept a greater number of refugees and get those it accepts working more rapidly. Manuel Valls is in favour of maintaining the status quo, with a tougher stance at the external borders of the passport-free Schengen zone.

Work more to earn more. We've heard that before!

On the economy Hamon wants to get the working week under 35 hours and will use tax pressure on businesses to achieve it; Valls wants to encourage people to work more by reducing the income tax they pay on overtime.

Yesterday's winner is a supporter of euthanasia for the terminally ill who want to die; Valls wants a more cautious public debate on the whole issue.

Similarly, Hamon wants to see the use of cannabis legalised and controlled, while Valls is against.

The former education minister wants to employ 40,000 new teachers; Valls wants to pay the ones we have a bit more.

Opposing ideas on prisons and pollution

While the former prime minister would create 10,000 additional places in French prisons, his opponent is in favour of non-custodial alternatives.

The two men are also divided on the question of punitive taxation for polluters: Hamon is in favour, Valls against. They are both against fracking for shale gas and both want to see France less dependent on nuclear power.

They both want to reform the institutional structure of France and both favour an increased used of the referendum for crucial decisions.

Danger of a divided left

The editorial in right-wing Le Fiagro is scathing.

Even if he still has a faint hope of winning next week, yesterday's vote shows that there's not a huge amount of enthusiasm in left-wing circles for Valls's attempt to reform French socialism.

But the first-round result is anything but a surprise for Le Figaro.

People have stood on the sidelines for nearly five years, watching the infighting between the Hollande-Valls camp and their rebel adversaries, with the former prime minister forced to use the 49-3 clause to push unpopular legislation through, despite a clear parliamentary majority.

Worse, warns the conservative daily, the French left is now irreconcilably divided between a so-called modernising camp, whose credentials have been seriously damaged by the past five years in government, and what Le Figaro calls the overreaching left, characterised by Hamon and marked by what the right-wing paper believes is a level of irresponsibility which stunned even his party colleagues during the primary debates.

Whichever man wins next Sunday, the outcome will do nothing to reunite the Socialists. Neither contender will make it to the second round of the real presidential election.