France's opposition Socialist Party (PS) candidate for the 2012 French Presidential election, Francois Hollande's back is seen as he gives a speech during a campaign meeting on April 29, 2012 at the Palais Omnisports Paris-Bercy (POPB) in Paris.    AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR

"The people of Europe are looking to us" ... Francois Hollande. Photo: AFP

ATHENS: The leader of Greece's socialist party says the country is pinning its hopes on the election of Francois Hollande in Sunday's French presidential election, the socialist frontrunner being seen as the best guarantor of the growth policies the European Union's austerity-racked southern periphery desperately needs.

With the Greeks also going to the polls, the socialist Pasok party leader, Evangelos Venizelos, said: ''We are very much hoping that he [Hollande] will win. He is by far the best solution.''

Support for the French socialist is the most glaring reflection yet of the growing rift in Europe over Berlin's Calvinist approach to resolving a crisis that many believe could have been contained had austerity not been so remorselessly pursued when it first broke out in Athens.

''This is undoubtedly a war, the war of our generation,'' said Mr Venizelos, who was a teenager during Greece's 1967-74 military regime. ''Our generation after the dictatorship never had difficulties. They were 38 very happy and prosperous years.''

Mr Hollande told a rally in Paris on Sunday: ''The people of Europe are looking to us.'' If elected, he promised to write to fellow eurozone governments with a call for a growth package to focus on job creation and development.

Mr Hollande, who last week pledged to help Greece ''regain a level of development'' if he beats the President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has pledged to renegotiate the fiscal pact the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made single-currency nations sign up to.

The treaty, the embodiment of restrictive monetary policies pursued by Germany, obliges EU member states to keep within stringent budget targets.

For countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain, the relentless focus on austerity has led to historic levels of unemployment and worsening poverty.

Greeks - who look set to abandon mainstream parties in droves in Sunday's elections, the first since the crisis erupted - have watched wages drop by an average of 25 per cent over the past two years. Pensioners are forced to survive on as little as €500 ($634) a month.

Greek voters will elect a 300-strong parliament, from which a government should be formed. Mr Venizelos, whose party has participated in an emergency coalition government under the Prime Minister, Lucas Papademos, since November, said it was time to end the ''one-dimensional'' approach.

The focus had to be on growth and rules had to be relaxed if Athens was to get out of the ''vicious cycle'' it was in, he said.

Guardian News & Media