PARIS (REUTERS) - Conservative candidate Francois Fillon is holding on to the third place in opinion polls despite a scandal over payments of public funds to his family that has hurt his campaign.
The 63-year-old former prime minister proposes a supply-side economic strategy with cuts in public spending, loosening restrictions on the length of the working week, and raising the retirement age.
He is also a social conservative who wants to limit adoption rights of gay couples and has called for warmer ties with Russia.
Here are Fillon's other key policy proposals:
ECONOMY AND EMPLOYMENT
- Ending the 35-hour week: Fillon proposes a return to a legal working week of 39 hours in the public and private sectors, up from the 35-hour week which since 2000 has obliged employers to pay higher rates or give time off for hours above the 35-hour mark. Fillon says the 39-hour week would apply straight away in the public sector and that negotiated deals in the private sector can allow people to work up to an EU ceiling of 48 hours.
- Public sector jobs: He proposes cutting the headcount by 500,000 by not replacing all retiring civil servants and increasing the working week to 39 hours. Some five million - or one in five of the workforce - are employed in the civil service, local government and public healthcare.
- Pensions/retirement age: He proposes raising the pensionable age of retirement to 65, from 62 at the moment. He wants to end special early-retirement provisions for state workers.
- Unemployment benefits: He proposes capping jobless benefits at 75 per cent of wages at the moment of job termination, followed by gradual decreases.
- Public finances: He will slash public spending by 100 billion euros (S$148 billion) over five years with the aim of cutting public spending from 57 per cent of GDP currently to less than 50 per cent by 2022. He targets a public-sector deficit of zero in 2022 from a start-point of 3.7 per cent of GDP in 2017.
- Taxation: Fillon aims to cut taxes and welfare charges by 50 billion euros starting from the fourth quarter of 2017. He will raise value added tax rates by two percentage points. He also proposes scrapping the ISF wealth tax, at a cost of 5 billion euros annually, and cut the corporate profit tax rate to 25 per cent from an official 33.3 per cent currently at a cost of 10 billion euros.
SOCIETY, SECURITY, IMMIGRATION
- Security/counter-terrorism: Fillon proposes increasing police and gendarme numbers by a total of 10,000 and raise the number of prison beds by 16,000. He would also strip all French people who fight abroad for militant groups of their French citizenship and ban them from returning to France.
- Immigration: Fillon's policy on immigration at a time of record influx to Europe of people fleeing war zones in the Middle East, Asia and Africa includes a proposed overhaul for Europe's Schengen pact on external and internal border controls. He also says Europe needs an external frontier police force. He wants an annual quota for intake of immigrants to come under the control of parliament and be written into the French constitution.
- Family: Fillon says he would not end same-sex marriage as enshrined in a 2013 law despite his personal reservations about that reform. He wants to limit gay couples' adoption rights: the filiation link with birth parents would remain, whereas it would be cut in the case of adoption by a man-and-woman couple. The 2013 law allows gay parents to get a new birth certificate with their names as parent as is the case for other adopting parents, cutting all legal ties between the child and birth parents.
- Fillon says that France, where foreign policy is mainly non-partisan, must reassert itself alongside the United States following the election of President Donald Trump. He also wants closer ties with Moscow.
- He advocates working with Russia and a more active engagement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran in the search for a solution to the conflict in Syria.
- He also supports the European Union, in contrast to the anti-EU National Front party, and advocates stronger decision-making ties between euro zone countries. He has been more cautious than his losing opponent Alain Juppe on EU reform and further integration, having focused more narrowly on euro zone governance.
- He espouses a stridently positive policy towards Russia, saying it is no threat, it should be a partner in Syria and that European sanctions against Russia imposed after its annexation of Crimea should be lifted.