François Hollande has had to get used to dismal opinion polls, but the latest one is about as bad as it gets for France’s struggling Socialist president.

A survey by OpinionWay for Le Figaro published on Tuesday evening shows Mr Hollande would be easily knocked out of the presidential race by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, if a re-run of the May 2012 election were held today.

Then, Mr Hollande beat both incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and Ms Le Pen in the first round of the election and went on to oust his centre-right rival from the Elysée Palace in the decisive second round. Two years later, after an often chaotic presidency marked by big tax increases, rising unemployment and faltering growth, Mr Hollande would muster a mere 19 per cent of first round votes, according to the poll. Read more

Blimey, those lazy French slackers are at it again.

Not content with a statutory 35-hour week, now people are banned from checking work emails after 6pm. No wonder France’s economy is going down the pan. That, more or less, was the story that went viral this week after a flurry of reports on English-language media (The Guardian, the Daily Mail, the tech blog Engadget among others) that a new “legally binding labour agreement” in France prohibited employees from answering emails from work outside office hours. Read more

(Getty)

News that François Hollande had a meeting recently with Peter Hartz, architect of Germany’s labour market reforms of a decade ago, has caused a frisson in Paris where all the talk (apart from that about his love life) is about the president’s public embrace of social democratic reforms with a distinctly German flavour.

The Elysée Palace denied reports that Mr Hartz, who led former chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s landmark reform programme, was acting as an adviser to Mr Hollande.

But it acknowledged that the president had hosted the former Volkswagen executive for an hour-long informal meeting two months ago. Read more

When President Francois Hollande steps up to the podium in the splendid Elysee Palace at 16.30 Paris time, 15.30 GMT on Tuesday for the third formal press conference of his 20-month old presidency, the first question on everyone’s lips is likely to be about the revelations of his apparent affair with a film actress.

How he deals with this embarrassing issue –Valerie Trierweiler, his partner and France’s first lady, remains in hospital recovering from the shock – will inevitably overshadow an event originally intended to concentrate on the economy.

But the financial markets, business leaders and France’s European partners will nonetheless be watching most closely what Mr Hollande has to say about his New Year resolution to inject some much-needed vitality into the French recovery, which is lagging behind those of the country’s biggest neighbours. Read more

France’s increasingly assertive extreme right has provoked new outrage with the publication on Wednesday of a magazine cover comparing Christiane Taubira, the (black) justice minister, to a monkey.

The country’s mainstream parties, otherwise at each others’ throats in the current fraught political climate, united to condemn Minute, which splashed a picture of Ms Taubira alongside the caption: “Clever as a monkey, Taubira gets her banana back.”

(In French slang, banana means a smile.)

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault demanded legal action against the magazine, a call quickly followed by the opening of a preliminary inquiry by the Paris courts, while Manuel Valls, interior minister in the socialist government, said he was investigating the possibility of blocking its distribution. Jean-Francois Copé, leader of the centre right UMP party, backed the government’s stance. Read more

François Hollande (Getty)

François Hollande’s Socialist government is desperate to get across a message, not least to foreign investors, that France’s economy is in recovery mode and that it is now set to start reducing the heavy tax burden it has heaped on companies.

This sunny prospect received a cold shower on Tuesday in the form of a survey of American businesses in France.

Although respondents saw some improvement in economic conditions over the next two years after a worse-than-anticipated 2013, only 19 per cent expected to increase employment, while 26 per cent said they would be reducing jobs.

More worrying for Mr Hollande, the survey showed a sharp slide in the perception of France as a good place to invest.

 Read more

Hollande embraces Joachim Gauck (France 2)

Two striking images of François Hollande , France’s president, were doing the rounds on Wednesday. Alas for him, the moving picture of him in a sombre embrace with German president Joachim Gauck at the scene of a terrible Nazi massacre is not the one most people may remember.

Instead, French internauts were in digital stitches over a shot published by the AFP news agency showing the amiable president pulling a silly face on a visit to a school at the start of the new academic year on Tuesday.

Making it all the more hilarious were the words neatly written in classic, schoolmistressy French handwriting on the blackboard above his head: “Today, it is the first day of school.” Read more

Nicole Bricq (Getty)

Nicole Bricq, France’s trade minister, appeared to be relishing the role of holding out for the “l’exception culturelle” when she hosted a group of journalists in Paris on Thursday morning, a day before she was due to meet of her EU colleagues in Luxembourg to discuss terms for opening trade talks with the US.

“France’s position has not changed today and I don’t believe it will change tomorrow. We’ll say no. There will be a political blockage, a veto if you want to call it that,” she declared.

She added: “I cannot imagine that engagement in an accord of this importance can go ahead without the support of France. Without France a thing like this has no chance of success.” Read more

A camel (Abid Katib/Getty)

Some good news at last for François Hollande, mired in a furious scandal over a former minister’s secret Swiss bank account: a new camel is on the way from Mali.

In a dispatch worthy of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, Reuters reported from Bamako on Tuesday that Malian authorities planned to send a replacement to Paris for the camel presented to Mr Hollande in grateful thanks for France’s military intervention in Mali when he visited the country in February.

The first animal, defence minister Yves Le Drian reported earlier in the week, was killed and eaten by the family Mr Hollande had left it with in Timbuktu.

The president, who before winning the Elysée Palace liked to buzz around Paris on his three-wheeled scooter, joked at the time that the camel would come in handy for getting about the congested capital. But the complicated logistics of shipping the beast back to France apparently led to the decision to entrust it instead to a local family – who promptly made it into stew.

Reuters reported that an official in northern Mali said:

“As soon as we heard of this, we quickly replaced it with a bigger and better-looking camel.

“The new camel will be sent to Paris. We are ashamed of what happened to the camel. It was a present and it did not deserve this fate.”

 Read more

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Marine Le Pen. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The first round of France’s parliamentary polls on Sunday provided another good election night for the Le Pen family.

Not only did Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right National Front, win an impressive 42 per cent of the vote to take a clear lead in the race to capture the Henin-Beaumont constituency in the north of the country: down south in the Vaucluse department, her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen also took the lead in her seat, outscoring Jean-Michel Ferrand, the incumbent centre-right UMP deputy, and the socialist candidate, with 35 per cent of the vote. Read more