French president François Hollande often seems to mistake extreme verbosity for communication. His press conferences last 2½ hours. His interview in L'Obs magazine, out on French newstands today, goes on for 12 pages.
Another example is A President Shouldn't Say This . . . , a 663-page book by two journalists from Le Monde, also published today.
Having broken all records for unpopularity, Hollande is on the offensive in the hope of salvaging a chance of re-election next May. He will not announce until December whether he intends to stand, but an avalanche of public appearances and interviews indicate he wants to do so.
Unfortunately for Hollande, the more the French public see of him, the less they like him.
The book's authors, Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, saw Hollande 61 times, including 10 dinners at the Élysée. They recorded 100 hours of presidential conversations.
French media are already focusing on Hollande's revelations about his private life in excerpts of the book published by Le Parisien newspaper.
Ségolène Royal, who lived with Hollande for nearly 30 years, and with whom he has four children, is “the one who understands me best . . . the one closest to me.”
As long as the obsessively jealous Valérie Trierweiler was his first lady, Hollande could not appoint Royal to a high position. After Trierweiler’s eviction, Royal became environment minister in April 2014.
At her first cabinet meeting, Hollande said, "She was happy, moved, our eyes met, voilà, it's a beautiful story."
Hollande called his January 2014 break-up with Trierweiler “the worst personal moment” of his five-year term in office. Her “obsession” was “not Julie or another, it was Ségolène. Because she always thought Ségolène was going to come back”.
Julie Gayet, who replaced Trierweiler in the president's affection, is "a good girl" and "a beautiful woman", Hollande said. He sees her "regularly, not as often as one would like".
He calls himself “the ghost of the Élysée” and says he often eats TV dinners while watching 24-hour news channel BFM.
Asked whether he intends to make his relationship with Gayet official, Hollande said: “She suffers from the situation. She would like to.” But he refuses to do so for as long as he is president – “including for the second term”.
Hollande's cruelest words are for his conservative predecessor and would-be challenger in next year's election, Nicolas Sarkozy. "He's a little de Gaulle. We had little Napoleon, well he's a little de Gaulle," he said.
He calls Sarkozy “a Duracell rabbit, always agitated” and condemns Sarkozy’s “crudeness, meaness and cynicism”.
Hollande accuses Sarkozy of using Élysée employees to spy on him and of organising a dirty tricks unit to destabilise him.
Yet some of Hollande’s remarks resemble those of Sarkozy. “That there’s a problem with Islam, it’s true. Nobody doubts it . . . I think there are too many arrivals, of immigration that shouldn’t be there.”
At the end of 2015, Hollande told the authors that the Socialist Party should be "liquidated". He wanted to rename it the "Party of Progress". His prime minister, Manuel Valls, agreed.
Hollande vaunts the “absolute loyalty” of Valls, and says that if he does not stand for re-election, he would pass the torch to Valls.
The L'Obs interview shows that the president has shifted his sights in recent weeks, from Sarkozy to Alain Juppé, the conservative former prime minister who according to polls is likely to defeat Sarkozy in the Les Républicains (LR) primary next month.
Sarkozy has denounced the fact that numerous socialists intend to vote for Juppé in the LR primary in the hope of preventing his candidacy, because Juppé is better placed to defeat the extreme right-wing National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
“If the idea takes root that to defeat the extreme right, one must vote for the right, well the left is no more,” Hollande says. “If the extreme right is a danger for our republican model, the right threatens our social model. The right is steeped in revenge, reaction, regression. That is the programme of all their candidates.”
Back on rights
If the right returns to power, Hollande warns, “they will go back on rights and principles that took decades to establish. The retirement age will rise to 65. The legal work week will increase to 39 hours . . . the wealth tax will be abolished, VAT increased . . . ”
Asked whether he is still on the left, Hollande insists: "Tell me one country in Europe whose policies are more to the left than ours . . . I am on the left. I have carried out left-wing policies . . . the education budget has become the biggest in the country, social protection has been broadened."
If he is defeated, Hollande told Davet and Lhomme, he will not sink into depression.
“I’m not afraid of losing. I won’t be frustrated and I won’t hold it against the French.”