François Hollande edges back from the verge of political death

French leader seeks to capitalise on unexpected recent surge in poll rating

Francois Hollande: plans to saturate radio and TV with his presence. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Francois Hollande: plans to saturate radio and TV with his presence. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

 

The promise of new beginnings has prompted France’s ill-loved president, François Hollande, to launch a January media blitz, which began on Monday with a two-hour live interview on France-Inter radio.

In his televised wishes to the nation on New Year’s Eve, Hollande said: “I want to end denigration and discouragement.” Unfortunately, he has nothing new to offer a despondent electorate. Only 29 per cent of respondents told an Ifop poll that they are optimistic, the lowest percentage since 1995. The OFCE economic think tank reports that the average French family has lost €1,630 in annual purchasing power since 2007, mainly because of hikes in tax and social contributions.

Yet Hollande received an unexpected end-of-year gift. After descending to 12 per cent in a YouGov survey in November, the lowest approval rating for a president in the history of polling, he rose to 25 per cent in a Harris Interactive/lits d’opinion poll in the last week of December.

Having returned from the verge of political death, Hollande now intends to build on his fragile recovery by saturating radio and television with his presence, including a press conference in the week starting January 19th.

It’s a risky undertaking. Hollande’s withdrawal from public view and the frontline role he gave prime minister Manuel Valls through the autumn may explain the improvement. He now appears set on reclaiming the limelight from Valls, but could alienate the public by droning on.

This will be a dangerous year for Hollande. Socialists were thrashed in last year’s municipal, European and senatorial elections. This year’s departmental elections in May and regional elections in December promise to be no better. The rift between social liberals and left-wing socialists will dominate the party congress in June.

Response to critics

Martine Aubry

Aubry called the “law on activity and growth”, which will reach the National Assembly on January 26th, “a regression”. Duflot said it was “a great leap backward”. Both women have vowed to defeat the legislation.

But Hollande defended it, saying: “It’s a law that is favourable to employment, which is socially just, so the left can vote for it.”

After the radio station broadcast testimony from several jobless individuals, Hollande admitted that “there is a responsibility that I accept”. More than five million people are affected by unemployment, including an additional 180,000 over the past year. Hollande made a vague promise to “take initiatives,” adding that “if we have more growth, we will have less unemployment”.

Hollande promised in April 2014 that he will not stand for re-election if joblessness does not fall.

Like his predecessors, he is attempting to distract attention from failing domestic policies by investing in foreign policy, in particular the crisis in Ukraine. He organised a meeting between presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of the commemoration of the D-Day landings in Normandy last June.

Exchange of prisoners

Moscow

“We must talk to Putin. I did,” Hollande said. “But saying clearly what we want and what we don’t want . . . Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine, he told me. He wants to remain influential, doesn’t want Ukraine to tip into the Nato camp. What we want of Putin is for him to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and stop supporting the rebels.”

Hollande denied that he has “become an ecologist out of opportunism” in the run-up to the December 2015 environment conference in Paris. He seeks “an historic accord,” for the world and for himself, since “at some point, one must leave one’s mark”.

A year ago this week, the Élysée Palace was rocked by the revelation that Hollande was having a secret affair with the actor Julie Gayet. On Monday, the president’s radio interview was almost upstaged by the announcement that former first lady Valérie Trierweiler’s book about their relationship will be adapted for cinema.

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