One of Europe’s most high-profile gay politicians is to run for leader of France’s Parti Socialiste.

Bertrard Delanoe will face half a dozen other contenders, most prominent among them Segolene Royal, who ran for President of France last year.

The party will vote for a new leader in November, and it is desperate to find a candidate who can unite them and take on incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Left does well in local government elections, but has not taken the Elysee Palace since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.

Mr Delanoe has proved to be a popular Mayor of Paris since we was first elected in 2001, with innovative ideas such as Paris Plage and a bike-hiring scheme proving popular with the city’s residents.

He famously announced his sexuality in a television interview in 1998.

Mr Delanoe, 58, was re-elected earlier this year.

In May, speaking to journalists at the launch of his new book, which urges French Socialists to accept Blairite reforms to the economy, he rejected the assertion that outside of Paris a gay man would not be electable.

“People say that homosexuality is acceptable in Paris but not in the suburbs or in the provinces but that’s a false idea,” he said.

“So long as people feel that it is not a problem for me, then it’s not a problem for them.”

A survey earlier this year found that 57% of voters thought he would make a good President, with Segolene Royal on 28%.

The Times reports that Mr Delanoe’s homosexuality “is taboo in the main media, but it is a source of polemics in the pub and on the internet.

Vingt Minutes, an internet news site … halted comments on its Delanoe report after being swamped with homophobic attacks on the Mayor.”

Despite his party’s defeat to Nicolas Sarkozy and the UMP in last year’s elections, the Socialists made significant gains in Paris, winning 12 out of 21 districts.

An attempted assassination of Mr Delanoe in October 2002 did no harm to his popularity.

He was stabbed during the ‘Nuit Blanche’ Parisian festival while socialising with the crowds.

His assailant, Azedine Berkane, reportedly told police: “he hated politicians, the Socialist Party, and the homosexuals.”

Before being taken to hospital the Mayor ordered that festivities continued.

Nicolas Sarkozy won a solid 53% of the vote in the second round of the Presidential elections last May to Ms Royal’s to 47%.

There was a huge turnout of 85%.

The victory of right-wing Mr Sarkozy meant that the chances of gay marriage becoming legal in France are greatly reduced.

The President spoke out against gay marriage throughout his campaign.

A 2006 Ipsos survey shows that 62% of French voters support gay marriage, while 37% were opposed.

When asked whether same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children, the survey found more people to be in opposition (55%) than in support (44%).

French same-sex couples who enter into Civil Solidarity Pacts already enjoy some of the rights that heterosexual married couples have, although couples are not able to adopt or have artificial insemination.