Source AP ©

French presidential candidate Royal promises overhaul of banking sector

French presidential candidate Segolene Royal accused the country's banking sector of profiting off the poor, and pledged Tuesday to limit the fees banks charge and allow customers to lodge class action lawsuits against them.

With less than three weeks to go until the two-round presidential election on April 22 and May 6, the Socialist is No. 2 in the polls behind conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. On Tuesday, she laid out her plan to help France's 1.5 million indebted families get back on track.

The major focus is cutting the charges that banks slap on customers for overdrawing or closing their accounts. Royal cited the case of one woman who was charged a EUR65 (US$87) fee for writing an overdrawn check of EUR51 ($68).

On top of that, Royal said, French banks offer loans at exorbitant rates to indebted customers.

Such practices are "clearly a rip-off. In any case, that's how people feel about it, and I think they are right," Royal said.

"It is now clear that banks are getting rich off those who are most humble," she said. "This situation cannot go on."

Royal said that allowing for class action suits, which are not now allowed under French law, would help consumers defend themselves. The conservative government tried to push through a reform to permit class action suits, but ran out of time before the end of the last parliamentary session.

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