France

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

There was good news for Europe’s farmers this week after a survey of EU citizens showed strong public support for the much criticised common agricultural policy. French farmers, who rely on EU subsidies for about half their income, will be especially glad to hear that Europeans polled by the latest Euro Barometer survey place an increasing importance on the challenges of developing agriculture while preserving the environment .

The French certainly believe the farmer is crucial to safeguarding the countryside as well as producing their food as the recent Salon de l’Agriculture showed. One of the world’s largest food and farm shows, it is held every year close to heart of Paris and this year drew a record 703,000 visitors.

People come here to revel in the best of the French terroir – the people, the food and the drink that make up rural France. The Salon is a mandatory stop for any politician with ambition, and this year everyone from President Francois Hollande to hopefuls in the race for Paris mayor made an appearance. Read more

By Richard McGregor

US President Barack Obama speaks during a joint press conference with French President François Hollande in the East Room of the White House on February 11 2014It has long been an article of faith that the so-called Anglosphere countries, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, don’t spy on each other.

The ‘Five Eyes’, as they are known, came together as an intelligence alliance after the second world war, initially bringing together the US and the UK, before they were quickly joined by the other countries. 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

By Luisa Frey

Back-channel conversations between the US and Iran paved way for the historic nuclear agreement and broke 34 years of hostility, writes the FT’s Geoff Dyer. Read more

Gideon Rachman

France's Benzema celebrates after scoring the second goal for the team during their World Cup qualifying playoff match against Ukraine at the Stade de France Reuters

If any country is in need of a morale booster, it is surely France. President Hollande’s popularity ratings are in the low 20s. The economy is shrinking. The country’s credit-rating has just been downgraded again. The far-right is on the rise. And a crazed gunman is on the loose in Paris. But amid all this gloom, something good has happened. And the positive news has come from an unlikely source, the national football team. Last night “les Bleus” overcame the odds and notched up the 3-0 victory they needed to defeat Ukraine and get to the World Cup in Brazil. Even the high-brow “Le Monde” had the footballing triumph as its banner headline, this morning. Read more

♦ Gillian Tett speaks to Alan Greenspan and finds he is prepared to admit that he got it wrong – at least in part.
♦ The White House glitches have gone further than Obamacare, as the administration has been continuously caught off guard by recent crises from Syria to spying, says Edward Luce. And the president gives few signs of having found a learning curve.
♦ France’s central bank governor, Christian Noyer, says Europe’s financial transaction tax poses an “enormous risk” to the countries involved.
♦ Spain’s mini gold rush in the country’s north is part of a broader movement by foreign investors seeking to turn Spain’s woes to their advantage. It also shows some of the difficulties of investing despite a more positive outlook.
♦ Ikea has sent self-assembly huts to Ethiopia to house Somali refugees – and they could soon be used as alternatives to tents elsewhere.
♦ Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit, looks at the history of top-down capitalism and wonders whether China can sustain its astounding growth.
♦ The art world may be marvelling at China’s booming market, but many transactions have not actually been completed and the market is flooded with forgeriesRead more

Where does President François Hollande go from here?
In this edition of World Weekly, Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief and Ben Hall, world news editor and former Paris correspondent, to focus on France, where President François Hollande’s approval ratings have dropped to a sorry 23%. The President’s plummeting popularity comes against the background of a weak economy and controversy over the deportation of a Roma schoolgirl. So where does Hollande go from here, and should we be worried by the momentum building behind the National Front ahead of the municipal and European elections next spring?

By Catherine Contiguglia

♦ Civil activism in China is becoming a force the Chinese government can no longer ignore as activists increasingly unite to rally with broader demands, largely through the growing platform of social media.
♦ Following the initial applause for getting Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table for the first time in four years, US secretary of state John Kerry is facing deep scepticism about the two-day talks in Washington D.C.
♦ Borzou Daragahi argues that in the wake of Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in Egypt, Islamists should investigate their own role in contributing to the tensions in the years leading up to the coup.
Alexei Navalny is hitting the streets “western-style” to revamp his mayoral campaign in Moscow six weeks before the vote.
♦ France’s culture minister Aurélie Filippetti has survived a tough first year in office, representing her party by bringing “extravagant” French culture to the level of the people, while still fighting for France’s “cultural exception.”  Read more

Can President Hollande turn things around?

This week the French government announced a multi-billion euro programme of investment, designed to boost the economy and President Hollande’s flagging poll ratings. In this podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief and Ben Hall, former Paris correspondent, to discuss a turbulent few weeks in which Mr Hollande has had to fire a cabinet member for dissent, the French government has clashed repeatedly with the European Commission in Brussels and Nicolas Sarkozy has made a flamboyant re-entry into French politics.