Political classes negotiate perils of taking French leave

“When you’re in power, you have no time to lose,” said French president François Hollande.

“When you’re in power, you have no time to lose,” said French president François Hollande.


François Hollande learned his lesson last August. When he and his companion Valérie Trierweiler went to the presidential palace on the Côte d’Azur at Brégancon, they were photographed walking around in shorts. France’s first couple were bored. Worse yet, the words vacances de pouvoir – meaning both “vacation” and “vacancy” of power – appeared in the press, and Hollande’s fall in the opinion polls began.

As the sacrosanct holiday month of August drew near, word came down from the Élysée Palace: no vacation. “When you’re in power, you have no time to lose,” Hollande explained at a recent dinner with the presidential press association. “Every day counts.”

His cabinet didn’t quite see it that way. “We’re exhausted,” the ministers moaned. For once, Hollande’s most loyal collaborator, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, disagreed.

Only human
“It’s a question of common sense,” Ayrault argued, according to Le Monde. “We’re only human. We need to renew ourselves. The French understand that very well.”

The conservative opposition seized on the disagreement. “If they’re complaining, let them resign!” former minister and Sarkozy loyalist Nadine Morano told Le Parisien. “It’s true they’re socialists; they don’t have the same relation to work as we do.”

In true Hollande fashion, a compromise was reached. The ministers will be allowed to take two weeks, after the cabinet meeting this Friday. But they must be easily reachable, and cannot stray too far from Paris. Half their staff must stay in the ministries. And they have a homework assignment: on returning to the government seminar on “The France of 2023” on August 19th, each minister must submit his or her ideas.

Hollande did not join Trierweiler in Greece, which she visited with her children from a previous relationship. He’ll take only one week off, probably at La Lanterne, the prime minister’s official country residence near Versailles.

Ayrault, too, will take only one week. And the president will not really be on vacation, the Élysée stresses: “He’ll work all the time. He’s just going to change surroundings a little, take a little air.”