**French conservatives back Fillon for president, Left founders
PARIS, Nov 28 (Reuters) - France’s centre-right rallied behind free market reformist Francois Fillon as its candidate for president on Monday after a snap opinion poll showed him clear favourite to beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in an election showdown next year.**
Fillon, a former prime minister who vowed to change France’s “software” with an assault on public sector spending, moved one step closer to the Elysee by securing a resounding victory over Alain Juppe in the Les Republicains primary vote on Sunday…
Fillon, 62, easily saw off Juppe, another former prime minister, by securing two-thirds of the vote on Sunday…
GLIMMER OF OPPORTUNITY
But Fillon’s hard-line reform plans - cutting public spending by 100 billion euros over five years, scrapping a tax on the wealthy and pushing the retirement age to 65 and cutting public sector jobs - hand a glimmer of opportunity to Hollande and his Socialists, and the broader French Left.
His plans also set him apart from the anti-euro, anti-immigration, more pro-worker policies of Le Pen.
Fillon is solidly pro-European while Le Pen says she would seek a Britain-style referendum on European Union membership with a view to leading France out of the bloc - something which, if it happened, could sound the death knell for the union.
By contrast, his socially conservative views such as his deep reservations about abortion and gay marriage could win him votes at her expense in a traditionally Catholic, if formally secular, country.
Under the leadership of Le Pen, who took over from her father Jean-Marie in 2011, the FN has switched from an economically liberal, pro-small business party to one that promises to lower the retirement age and guarantee France’s generous welfare safety net.
Fillon’s social and economic policies could also push more centrist voters towards the left - if there was a rallying candidate.
Fillon, an admirer of late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, pledged on Sunday to introduce radical change…
In the same poll, Fillon and Le Pen were seen coming top in the first round with 26 and 24 percent respectively. In the resulting second round run-off, Fillon was seen winning with 67 percent to Le Pen’s 33.