PARIS (REUTERS/AFP) - Radical leftwinger Jean-Luc Melenchon is shaking up France's presidential race just days before the first round of voting on Sunday (April 23).
The 65-year-old political veteran has surged from behind in the final stages of the campaign to become a serious contender for one of the two top spots in the first round.
Polls have shown him running just a few points behind the frontrunners, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, vying for third with scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon.
Among Melenchon's most eyecatching policies are a 100-billion-euro (S$148 billion) economic stimulus plan funded by government borrowing. He also pledges a rewrite of the Constitution to end what he calls a "presidential monarchy" - shorthand for a radical change that would boost parliamentary power and voter control over a head of state who currently enjoys more power in his country than presidents in many other Western democracies, including the United States.
Here are his main proposals for the presidential election:
- Melenchon says he would raise public spending by 275 billion euros over the five years from mid-2017 to mid-2022. That splits into 102 billion of debt-financed public investment and 173 billion of spending on wage rises and job creation, with the goal of cutting the jobless rate to six per cent from 10 per cent now.
- Of the 102 billion, 45 billion would be devoted to social projects, of which 18 billion would go into new housing construction alone. Another 50 billion would go to environmental projects, of which 25 billion would be for development of alternative energy sources such as sea-based wind-power generation. The remaining seven of the 102 billion would be invested in the public service.
- Of the 173 billion of other state expenditure, 22 billion would go to public sector pay increases, 33 billion to fighting poverty, 32 billion to covering the cost of the cut to 60 in the retirement age (from about 65), 24 billion to education and culture, with another 17 billion for youth policy.
- His economic team predicts additional state income of 180-190 billion euros, comprising the benefits of higher economic growth and inflation, a fall in unemployment, and tax reforms that will weigh heavily on the income and assets of the wealthiest.
- Beyond the increased state revenues linked to his predicted economic growth rate of two per cent a year in 2018 and onwards as well as waning unemployment, Melenchon says he will raise the state's firepower by fighting tax evasion, scrapping costly tax credits for firms and reforming income and asset taxation to make the richest pay more.
- He proposes moving income taxation from a system of five tax bands to a more progressive 14 bands, with any salary above 400,000 euros per year taxed at 90 per cent. That, plus higher taxes on property deals and higher sales tax on luxury goods, is predicted to raise 31.5 billion euros a year.
- Another 38 billion euros per year would be raised by ending a myriad of exceptions in income tax dues and 30 billion more by cracking down on tax fraud. Another 21 billion would be saved by abandoning the tax credits that current President Francois Hollande introduced in the hope that beneficiary companies would recruit more staff.
- Tax on small and medium sized companies would be reduced and the average corporate profit tax rate cut to 25 per cent from 33 at present.
EUROPE AND THE WORLD
- Pullout from the US-dominated Nato military alliance and the International Monetary Fund
- Veto of international free-trade accords
- End independence of European Central Bank and take control of Bank of France
- Devalue the euro to the exchange rate at which it started versus the US dollar - roughly one euro for US$1.17
- Ignore the euro zone "stability pact" on deficit and debt control
- Renegotiate European Union rules to get rid of austerity and other laissez-faire policies as well as rules that allow companies, notably on building sites, hire staff on conditions of other EU countries that are lower than those of France.
- Failure of renegotiation demands would trigger a "Plan B"proposal whereby France's departure from the European Union would go to a referendum vote.
- Close ageing Fessenheim nuclear power station and abandon major nuclear projects, including the EDF power utility's planned construction of the British Hinkley Point nuclear power plant.
- Invest in offshore wind power output as well as other alternatives to nuclear and carbon-generated power. Organise transition to an economy based on local produce and zero-carbon consumption.
- Melenchon predicts 3.5 million jobs will be created as a result of hefty public investment in environmental projects and support for public services, including hiring of 60,000 state-employed teachers as well as increases in police numbers.
- Strict appplication of legal 35-hour week, implying that all hours above that mark be systematically paid at 25-50 per cent above the standard pay rate.
- Raise the national minimum wage by 16 per cent to 1,326 euros net per month for 35 hours worked per week - Six percentage point rise in public sector wage rate
- Start work on rewrite of constitution to limit power of president, allowing for him to be dismissed by popular vote, lower the voting age to 16 from 18, abolish the Senate upper house of parliament and ban holding of multiple elected mandates.
- Make referendum approval obligatory for any European treaty change.