French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking to the biggest rally of his re-election bid, said the European Central Bank should do more to promote economic growth, reviving an issue he raised in his 2007 campaign.
“On the question of the ECB’s role in boosting growth, we French are going to open the debate,” Sarkozy told a crowd today in central Paris that his aides estimated at more than 100,000. “If Europe is not going to sink in the international economy, it must renew with growth.”
Sarkozy trails Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in the polls a week before the 10-candidate first-round voting. The runoff is set for May 6. Hollande, who has called for pro-growth European policies, leads in a head-to-head match 56 percent to 44 percent, according to a TNS Sofres survey published April 13. No margin of error was provided.
The Frankfurt-based ECB has been a political target for Sarkozy for more than five years. As finance minister and presidential candidate and then after his election, he criticized central bankers for driving interest rates too high. Since the start of the euro crisis, he has pushed for them to take a more activist role, clashing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Their dispute culminated in a November 2011 agreement at a Brussels summit to respect the independence of the central bank. Sarkozy hadn’t mentioned the ECB in his campaign speeches until today.
“The fact that Sarkozy now blows in the same direction as Hollande will probably raise some eyebrows in Germany, especially from his ally Angela Merkel,” said Thomas Costerg, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank in London.
The ECB has expanded its role since Greece first sought a bailout in April 2010, first by buying the debt of affected countries on secondary markets and then last December providing commercial banks with low-interest three-year loans.
“Europe must cut its debts, it has no choice,” Sarkozy said. “But between deflation and growth, it has no choice either. If it chooses deflation, it will disappear.”
Sarkozy also said the euro zone’s debt crisis has “shown the limits” of the debt and deficit rules set down in the Maastricht treaty. Sarkozy said there “must be no taboos” as EU leaders discuss the ECB’s role and the Maastricht rules.
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