François Hollande

By Gideon Rachman
A couple of days before the terrorist attacks in Paris, a book arrived at my office. I placed What’s Wrong with France? by Laurent Cohen-Tanugi on the shelves, alongside a line of similar titles: France on the Brink, France in Denial, France in Freefall and France’s Suicide.

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

A new direction for France?
President François Hollande’s socialist party took a serious drubbing in Sunday’s local elections. He responded by swiftly sacking his prime minister and replacing him with Manuel Valls, a tough interior minister and economic reformer from the party’s right wing. So does this appointment signal a modernising direction for France? Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief, and Ben Hall, world news editor and former Paris correspondent, to discuss.


Whenever any centre-left leader comes to power in Europe, there are always questions over who he or she will be compared to. Take François Hollande: only days after his election to the Elysée, commentators were already wondering whether he might be France’s Gerhard Schröder. The hope was that he could reform France’s labour market from the left, just as the former chancellor did in Germany in the early 2000s.

Matteo Renzi, who is set to become Italy’s youngest ever prime minister, is bound to draw such comparisons. When Time magazine chose to feature the then 34-year old mayor of Florence on its front page in February 2009, the US weekly asked whether he might be Italy’s Barack Obama. In an interview to the Italian daily Il Foglio, Mr Renzi compared himself to Tony Blair, saying he wanted to transform the Italian left just as Britain’s three-times prime minister did with the Labour party. The media-savvy Mr Blair certainly remembered Mr Renzi’s aspirations when he called on Europe’s leaders to “get fully behind” Italy’s new leader. Read more


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

Can Hollande get the French economy back on track?
By an unfortunate coincidence, President François Hollande’s efforts to relaunch his presidency with an announcement of bold economic reforms have coincided with the revelation that he appears to be having an affair with an actress. Meanwhile, the economy continues to struggle, and the government is engaged in an effort to block performances by the controversial comic Dieudonné. Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris Bureau chief, and Ben Hall, world news editor, to discuss whether France is in crisis, or whether it’s business as usual

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  • Businesses in Germany worry about the impact of introducing a minimum wage.
  • In Sudan, economic problems and fears for South Sudan are destabilising Omar al-Bashir’s rule.
  • Sébastien Valiela discusses how he managed to get the infamous photographs of François Hollande .
  • The New York Times documents how a young woman was lured to North Dakota from the west coast by a job in the oil industry, only to find a land dominated by men, lower pay than expected and a high cost of living.

 Read more

  • François Hollande, under pressure about his private life, tried to steer the media towards his plans for the economy. See also Le Monde’s take on how he has shaken the left and disoriented the right.
  • Martin Wolf argues that it is the failure of the elite, both historically and today, that creates disaster and leads to the collapse of political order.
  • Policy should focus less on the jihadis and more on the conditions that engender them, argues David Gardner.
  • See what it is like to seek refuge in Europe with this Guardian interactive.
  • European intelligence agencies secretly met Bashar al-Assad’s delegates to share information on European extremists operating in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Executives from some of France’s biggest companies will fly to Tehran next month – signaling a wave of corporate interest as the west eases sanctions.
  • A “whirlwind of reversals, about-faces, and false starts has locked Egypt into a revolving cycle, if not a downward spiral”, say Peter Harling and Yasser El Shimy.

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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

François Hollande and Valérie Trierweiler. AP

When Bill Clinton was being impeached over the Monica Lewinsky affair, I remember wishing that the Americans could be a bit more like the French – and leave the salacious details of their president’s private life out of the public gaze. But now, as the story of President François Hollande’s affair gets ever messier, I’m beginning to wonder whether the French might have to become a bit more like the Americans. Or, to be more specific, whether this strict French insistence on respect for the president’s private life can, or should, survive.

The revelation that the president’s partner, Valérie Trierweiler, has taken the news of his affair so badly that she has been hospitalised has immediately injected a darker note into some of the press coverage. Initial reports, particularly in the English press, were characterised by plenty of sniggering. But, perhaps, this isn’t a hilarious French farce, after all. 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

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?

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

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.

♦ The FT argues today that Apple’s decision to borrow money in order to fund a dividend, despite being one of America’s most liquid companies, indicates a need for reform to the US tax system.
♦ Despite impressive economic growth, improvements in living standards in Malaysia have lagged behind those of its neighbours, building pressure for change ahead of Sunday’s election.
♦ North African governments are trying to stem the flow of young Islamic militants, heading to Syria to fight the regime.
♦ President François Hollande is struggling to please everyone and, in fact, anyone – leading to concerns that France might become the next European problem child. After a draft paper by the president’s party described Angela Merkel as “selfish”, Mr Hollande has had to reassure her that he still believes in a Franco-German relationship.
♦ William Finnegan discusses his article on Mark Lyttle, a US citizen from North Carolina who was deported to Mexico despite ample evidence that he was an American, and the soaring number of deportations.
♦ Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told the FBI that he and his brother considered suicide attacks on July 4, but instead decided to strike on Patriots’ day.
♦ Politics and vetting processes mean that Barack Obama has yet to fill some long-empty posts in his cabinet.
♦ Evangelical Christians in California have struck up a debate over whether yoga is a religion or not – where is the line between the body and the soul?
♦ SAYA, a Jerusalem-based design studio, is trying to provide a architectural resolutions to territorial disputes: “you can’t stop terror with just a fence. We need to imagine structures that can build hope instead of fear and resentment.”
♦ When Alex Christodoulou tried to quit his job for life in the Greek public sector, he found the process harder (and more labyrinthine) than he ever thought it could be, especially when the government had committed to taking thousands of workers off the public payroll. “They wanted to rehire him so that they could fire him and include him in the number of public servants being laid off to appease Greece’s international creditors”.
♦ In a review of The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, Richard Lloyd Parry argues against the idea that North Korea is a “zombie nation”, but wonders if the idea that the country is in a state of “political undeath” doesn’t perhaps suit some other states.
 Read more

(Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty)

(Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty)

About ten years ago I visited Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux. Paul Pontallier, the chief winemaker there, told me that prices for the most sought-after red Bordeauxs had already reached such stratospheric levels that it had become almost embarrassing. “My friends can’t afford to buy Margaux,” he lamented. Since then, it’s got even worse. Now it seems that even the president of France cannot afford to drink the top clarets. The Elysée has just announced that it will sell off about 10% of the presidential wine collection – and restock the cellars with cheaper wines.

It is an understandable decision. I don’t know if there will be any Margaux sold at auction, but I see that a bottle of Margaux 2000 now goes for about £700 (€825). The auction will also apparently include some Petrus 1990, which the FT this morning reckoned would go for €2,200 a bottle. (Actually my research suggests that would be a bargain and that the market price is now closer to €3,000).

But it is important that the restocking exercise should be carried out carefully. That is because a stellar cellar can be a genuine diplomatic asset. There are diplomats who attribute Britain’s success, in persuading France to make the fatal decision to reverse its opposition to British membership of the European Economic Community (now the EU), back in the 1970s, to the magnificence of the wines that Sir Christopher Soames – the then British ambassador to Paris – poured down the throats of key French decision-makers. Read more

(CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

(CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

President François Hollande this week published France’s long awaited strategic defence review, setting out what the French armed forces should be aiming to do in the years ahead. The publication of the document – called the “livre blanc” or “white book” – was an important moment for those following European defence.

In recent years, the US has become increasingly concerned that European states are cutting back on defence spending, leaving the US to do more and more of the heavy lifting in Nato. In 2010, Britain, the biggest defence spender in Europe, slashed expenditure by eight per cent in real terms. The big question was whether France was about to do the same.

The good news for France’s allies is that it isn’t taking what might be called the “Cameron approach.” According to Camille Grand, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, France did debate whether to slash defence spending by 10 per cent. “But the French finance ministry lost that argument, much to relief of the service chiefs,” he says. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Is France on the brink of revolution? Is President François Hollande in danger of being dragged to the guillotine? These sound like silly questions. In fact, they are silly questions. Yet talk of a new revolution is surprisingly common in France these days. This week’s edition of Le Point, a leading news weekly, asks on its cover, “Are we in 1789?”, and illustrates the question with a picture of Mr Hollande, dressed up as Louis XVI, the hapless monarch executed by the revolutionaries. Even academics are making the comparison. Dominique Moïsi, a visiting professor at the University of London, has argued that the president “looks ever more like a modern Louis XVI” and that France is in the grip of a “regime crisis”.

Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s nowhere left to hide! The champagne socialists have been outed, their secret extravagance and hypocritical lives of luxury exposed once and for all!

At least, that’s what critics of François Hollande’s government must have been hoping.

What actually emerged from the enforced declaration of assets by French cabinet ministers on Monday was somewhat less exciting.

Ok, so there are a few millionaires – foreign minister Laurent Fabius is officially the cabinet’s richest member, with assets of around €6m; minister for the elderly Michèle Delaunay has about €5.4m, including two houses and €15,000 in jewellery.

And yes, Arnaud Montebourg, that famous leftwing fireband, owns an Eames chair that he bought for €4,300. But who said socialists weren’t allowed to covet icons of modern design?

You can peruse the documents yourself, minister by minister, on a special website courtesy of the French government. We found the section marked: “Véhicules terrestres à moteur, bateaux, avions, etc.” of particular interest. From it, we have learned the following.

Clio Expression Eco - 94g/km CO2 (image courtesy Renault)

This is the most popular car in the French cabinet

1) This is not a cabinet of petrolheads or luxury car enthusiasts. With a few exceptions, these ministers like cars that are French-made, sensible, easy to park, and inexpensive. Thus, the most popular car in the French cabinet is the Renault Clio, a vehicle described by WhatCar magazine as a chic supermini [that] offers low running costs”.

2) Most, though not all, are patriotic in their car-buying. We counted 4 Citroens, 9 Peugeots, and no fewer than 19 Renaults. Of the Renaults, after the Clio, the Twingo and the Megane were particularly favoured. Only a few ministers broke from French brand names – including minister of defence, Jean Yves Le Drian, whose cars include a Suzuki Wagon R from July 2004 and a Lancia Ypsilon from 2012. Read more