Socialist Showdown

France's next presidential election isn't until 2012, but Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë is already bidding to be the candidate of change. Delanoë claims in a new book ("Audacity") to be both "socialist and liberal." That can be an oxymoron on the French left, where some use "ultraliberal" as a slur for unbridled capitalism. Delanoë plays up his private-sector credentials as a former consultant and chides Socialists to stop battling "bogeymen" like "flexibility" and "competition."

Not that Delanoë's all for an unchecked economy. He still wants to reverse conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy's tax breaks, and his "liberalism" focuses more on political freedoms like gay adoption. His apparent aim is to steal the center from Socialist rival Ségolène Royal, who lost to Sarkozy in the last presidential election. The problem: Delanoë needs to win over Socialists first, and inflation anxieties may lead them to favor a candidate with a more palliative line. Indeed, Royal, who often flirts with the center, too, reacted by attacking capitalism for "destroying men and women" and accused Delanoë of "gleaning ideology" from the right.

The Socialists pick a new leader—and reveal whether a "liberal" can lead the party—in November.