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France's Hollande in Dire Straits - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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French President Francois Hollande attends the economic forum with French and Moroccan business leaders at a hotel in Rabat April 4, 2013.   (REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal)

French President Francois Hollande attends the economic forum with French and Moroccan business leaders at a hotel in Rabat April 4, 2013. (REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal)

Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—Francois Hollande would not be president of France if the elections were to take place today, a recent poll has revealed.

A poll conducted by CSA for BFMTV released this week suggests that not only would President Hollande not be elected if the presidential elections were held today, he would be knocked out of the first round of the vote by Marine Le Pen and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. The poll revealed that just 19 percent of the French electorate would be prepared to vote for Hollande today; in comparison to 23 percent for Miss Le Pen and 34 percent for Sarkozy.

The results of this poll confirmed Hollande’s plummeting popularity in France, less than one year since taking office. A second poll placed Hollande’s popularity at 25 percent, with only one in four French citizens expressing confidence in the French president’s ability to deal with the problems facing the country. The latest polls make Hollande one of the least popular French president’s in modern history.

The political scene in France today is radically different than that on the eve of last year’s elections when the country’s left-wing forces succeeded in installing their candidate in the Elysee Palace. Hollande’s recent reversal of fortune makes his prospects for reelection increasingly unlikely.

Hollande, who first appeared as the “antithesis” of former president Sarkozy in terms of policy and decision-making, stirred optimism throughout the country, especially among France’s middle and lower classes. He pledged to lead a crackdown against the world of finance, claiming his first priority would be to re-launch the country’s ailing economy. He spoke of securing growth and development without submitting to the dictates of the European Union. He stressed that he would fight the recession, battle unemployment, and seek to implement social justice.

Hollande surprised many when he announced his plans to impose a 75 percent tax on anybody with financial revenues exceeding EUR 1 million per year. He also revealed an integrated economic, financial, and social reform program. Hollande, who promoted himself during the elections as being a man of the people, appointed a similarly unassuming prime minister in Jean Marc Ayrault.

Although Hollande initially came to power with immense support, it appears that the French people are less than happy with the first socialist president to be elected since Francois Mitterrand, particularly in light of recent development. The question that must be asked here is: Will Hollande be able to meet the early expectations that surrounded his presidency?

In reality, there is a huge difference between election promises and presidential realities. Unemployment in France has reached its highest level in decades, standing at 11 percent. This means that more than three million French citizens are currently out of work.

Due to the continuing rising unemployment rate, the people of France are losing faith in Hollande. Since economic growth is necessary to create employment, companies are also suffering, many being forced to close down; further impacting unemployment and the wider economy. This is something that is also threatens tax rises to meet the state’s increasing social and healthcare expenditure. Hollande initially promised to bring down the budget deficit to less than 3 percent by the end of 2013; this is something that the Paris government has since acknowledged it will not be able to do.

Analysts stress that Hollande’s plummeting popularity is primarily down to France’s economic and social deterioration. However, there are other factors at play for the French electorate. Hollande’s first year in office has been beset by political division, with the government unable to regulate its own political affairs. Following this, Paris was hit by the scandal surrounding Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac, who was ultimately forced to resign. Cahuzac has lately been charged with tax fraud after admitting owning an undeclared foreign bank account containing approximately EUR 600,000. This scandal only served to increase distrust in the French government and Hollande’s presidency.

It is also clear that the opposition is willing to exploit every opportunity to criticize the government in general and Hollande in particular. In an interview published on Thursday in local magazine Valeurs Actuelles, Jean-François Copé—President of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP)—said: “The question today remains whether Holland is able to actually lead France.”

Just days before his one year anniversary in office, Hollande responded to critics by citing the “legacy” left by successive right-wing governments, defending his achievements in his first year in office.

As for the claims that his government is beset by indecision, Hollande made reference to his decision to intervene militarily in Mali. He emphasized that his government has made a number of achievements in his first year in office, not least implementing labor reform, creating jobs for youth, lowering the retirement age for some sections of society, reducing presidential and ministerial salaries, and establishing a public investment bank.

He added that future plans include greater financial transparency among ministers and parliamentarians, reforming the education system, and creating 60,000 jobs in the public education sector.

Despite these claims, and his promises for the future, Hollande now finds himself in dire straits; will he be able to turn things around, or will things only move from bad to worse for the socialist president?