French election favourite Francois Hollande received a surprise boost on Wednesday when the head of the European Central Bank echoed his call for coordinated measures to boost growth.
Hollande, the Socialist frontrunner in the presidential race, is campaigning on a vow to renegotiate the EU fiscal pact in order to complement its austerity rules with more targeted investment in jobs and growth.
"On the day after the election, if I have received a mandate, I will send a memorandum to the other heads of state on renegotiating the treaty," he said.
And he cited four planned changes -- the creation of eurobonds to finance industrial infrstructure projects, freeing up of investment funds, a financial transaction tax and mobilising unused structural investment funds.
Previously, Hollande's plan to renegotiate the treaty had been attacked by France's right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, who signed the pact last month but has yet to see it ratified by parliament.
He warns re-opening the hard-won deal would risk damaging the eurozone's credibility on the markets.
French voters nevertheless gave Hollande first place in Sunday's first round vote, sending Hollande to his May 6 run-off with Sarkozy as favourite, and Wednesday he received an unexpected boost from ECB governor Mario Draghi.
"What is most present in my mind is to have a 'growth compact'," Draghi told the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, apparently tacitly endorsing Hollande's hitherto controversial position.
And even Germany's Angela Merkel, the arch-defender of the austerity rules and deficit-cutting targets embedded in the fiscal pact, conceded that Europe might need means to encourage output "in the form of structural reforms".
"On one hand, that can be done with a sustainable fiscal policy ... but that is a necessary but not sufficient method of overcoming the crisis because we also need growth," she said, endorsing Draghi's remarks.
The French Socialists had long argued that they have discreet support in other European capitals, despite Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron having publicly backed fellow right-winger Sarkozy.
But the credibility of Cameron's austerity measures was rocked on Wednesday with the confirmation that Britain was back in recession, and EU-mandated cuts in spending have triggered protests in Greece, Italy and Spain.
In a television interview on Tuesday, Hollande sent Merkel a firm message: "Budgetary responsibility? Yes. Austerity for life? No."
He has promised to visit Germany as soon as he is elected, but of Merkel he said: "She led Europe alongside Nicolas Sarkozy. We can see the results! If I am elected president, there will be a change in how we build Europe."
And Wednesday, in a statement sent to 44.5 million voters, he reaffirmed his plan to renegotiate the fiscal pact "to undertake great projects for our future and protect us from globalisation's unfair competition."
Draghi and Merkel's statements will strengthen Hollande's position as he faces a make-or-break debate with Sarkozy next week before the run-off in which his inexperience and economic plan are likely to come under attack.
Hollande won 28.6 percent of the vote in the first round to Sarkozy's 27.18 percent, and is forecast in opinion polls to beat the incumbent by 55 percent to 45 on May 6, winning control of the world's fifth greatest power.
But all eyes are on the 18 percent of voters who backed far-right anti-EU candidate Marine Le Pen in the first round. Sarkozy has launched himself into the hunt for their votes, at the risk of tarnishing his own image.
Sarkozy, the first sitting French president to lose a first-round vote, has tacked further to the right since Sunday, vowing to "defend the French way of life", drastically reduce immigration and secure France's borders.© ANP/AFP