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France's Melenchon says he would hike spending by 273 billion euros

By Mathieu Rosemain and Sophie Louet

PARIS (Reuters) - French hard-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon would raise spending by 273 billion euros ($290 billion), his team said in a presentation online on Sunday.

That sum includes a 100 billion-euro recovery plan to stimulate the French economy.

The new spending would essentially be financed through higher taxes, debt, lower tax evasion and higher economic growth, according to Melenchon's political movement, dubbed "Indomitable France" and backed by the country's Communist party.

The proposed measures, which include a 15 percent increase in France's minimum wage, new funds to fight poverty and create new jobs, underscore the gap Melenchon would have to bridge with Socialist rival Benoit Hamon in order to find a common platform for the April and May presidential election.

The two hard-left candidates said on Friday they were discussing cooperation in their bid for the presidency, jolting investors already nervous over the possibility of a win for far-right, anti-globalization candidate Marine Le Pen.

Melenchon's plan would cut France's unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2022 from about 10 percent today, with an economic growth forecast of about 2 percent as soon as 2018, his team said.

The total weight of taxes would increase by four points to the equivalent of about 49 percent of France's gross domestic product, while the country's yearly budget deficit would fall to 2.5 percent by 2022, they said.

BACKFIRE

Investors believe a tie-up of Melenchon and Hamon could either backfire and catapult Le Pen into the Elysee palace or succeed and land France with a far-left president pursuing deficit-boosting economic policies.

A Cevipof poll published on Thursday gave Hamon, who won a primary last month to become the Socialist party's candidate, 14 to 14.5 percent in the first round of the election on April 23. Melenchon had 11.5 to 12 percent.

They are well behind frontrunners Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and Francois Fillon of the center-right, but a combined vote could allow one of the leftists to survive the first round and possibly face Le Pen in the decisive May 7 second round.

Both Hamon and Melenchon said they would renegotiate the 1992 Maastricht treaty, under which France agreed to limit its yearly budget deficit to 3 percent.

But Hamon, while sharing Melenchon's views for a need to boost the French economy through higher spending, has a program that differs on many points from his rival.

France Info radio station reported on Sunday that the talks between the two candidates had fallen apart. That was before Hamon's interview on RTL radio station, where he left the door open for further discussions with Melenchon.

"We can't allow ourselves to stand by passively and see a second round (of the presidential election) between a right, which is a radical right, and an extreme right," Hamon said.

(Editing by Susan Thomas)

 

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