François Hollande

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.

Ferdinando Giugliano

(OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

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

(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

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

  • Forget the “Fragile Five”: the list of countries exposed as central banks tighten monetary policy is longer than the moniker suggests.
  • A German man, estranged from his father, may still face a €9,000 bill for the father’s care costs in a legal case that has sparked debate across a nation obsessed with its ageing population and how to pay for its welfare.
  • 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.

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  • 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

Gideon Rachman

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