François Hollande’s comments raising hackles across France

President manages to offend almost everyone, including judges, footballers and his ex

Remarks by François Hollande quoted in a new book have enraged the French judiciary, footballers and his ex-partner, and prompted a wave of ridicule from fellow politicians.

The judiciary is "a cowardly institution", the French president told Le Monde journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, whose 663-page book, A President Shouldn't Say This . . . , was published yesterday. "That's really what they are, all those prosecutors, all those high judges, they hide away, pretend to be virtuous . . . They don't like politics."

In response to the remarks, the country's two highest magistrates, Bertrand Louvel and Jean-Claude Marin, demanded an audience with Mr Hollande.

“Our conversation with the president of the republic in no way attenuated the feeling of the judiciary in general and magistrates in particular, in the face of this new humiliation,” said Mr Marin, the prosecutor general at the court of cassation, France’s supreme court.

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Following the "terrible period that our country has lived through" since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, he said, everyone seemed to agree that justice "should be a major priority".

Renewed outrage

Mr Louvel, the first president of the court of cassation, recalled that former president

Nicolas Sarkozy

called judges “boring as peas”. Mr Hollande’s remarks were “a renewed outrage”, he said, and it was high time the judiciary “emancipate itself at last from executive tutelage.”

Judges and prosecutors joined in the outcry, issuing a communique to “deplore forcefully these remarks which . . . strike a grave blow to the confidence that citizens must have in their justice”.

Just three months after Mr Hollande received the French football team at the Élysée at the close of the Euro 2016 championship, his comments about Les Bleus – though made in 2012 – also raised hackles.

In a remark reminiscent of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Mr Hollande regretted the “ghettoisation” of the team, many of whose members are of African or Arab origin.

“There’s no attachment to this French team,” he said. “They’re guys from the housing projects, without bearings, without values. They went from being ill-educated kids to very rich stars, without preparation. They aren’t prepared psychologically to know what is good from what is evil.”

Rather than coach them, he added, the football federation ought to “beef up their brains”.

Emmanuel Petit, the midfielder who scored the winning goal in France's 1998 World Cup victory, told RMC radio: "It's true that too many football players give a poor example today. Despite that, to make general statements is a shortcut that the president of the republic shouldn't take.

“I’m disappointed, but not surprised,” Mr Petit added. “I’d like to beef up the brains of the political class in matters of probity and honesty.”

In the book, Mr Hollande said it was an "odious betrayal" by his former companion, Valérie Trierweiler, to have claimed that he derided the poorest people in France as "the toothless".

Ms Trierweiler responded by tweeting an eight-year-old message she received from Mr Hollande, recounting a trip to his constituency in Corrèze, where former first lady Bernadette Chirac is an official.

“She made a great slip in her speech. Everyone laughed, even the toothless,” Mr Hollande had texted.

Stupid crowd

Nor are Mr Hollande’s remarks about the Greens (“cynics and trouble-makers”) and Socialist Party rebels (“an aggregation of intelligent people can make a stupid crowd”) likely to endear him to those whose support he would need to be re-elected.

The authors recorded 100 hours of conversations with Mr Hollande.

“One wonders when he’ll stop confessing and, especially, when does he work?” asked conservative presidential candidate Nathalie Koscukso-Morizet, summarising reaction to the book.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times