Why is François Hollande so unpopular in France?
Only 15 per cent of French people have a positive view of François Hollande’s first year as French president, according to the latest opinion polls
One year after he was elected with 51.6 per cent of the vote, defeating the right wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, many of those interviewed on the first anniversary of Hollande’s victory talked of their anger, worry or disappointment.
What has gone wrong over the last 12 months?
The short answer is that unemployment is up, purchasing power is down and hardly anyone is confident that François Hollande can reverse the situation.
Hollande’s government, led by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, is a hotchpotch of ministers from different currents on the left, all pulling in different directions.
Hollande appears to send mixed signals to the country and to outside investors, as he tries to appease different factions within the government.
And the French aren't sure if he is a leader or not.
Already high, this has increased under François Hollande and is now at record level.
Hollande says all of his policies are intended to boost growth with the aim of reducing jobless figures.
Measures designed to make French companies more competitive, to allow employment of young people while retaining older employees and reforms of employment laws have all been passed but will take time to bear fruit.
A succession of high-profile factory closures (PSA, Arcelor Mittal, Goodyear) were bitterly fought by unions who say they feel betrayed after government promises to prevent closures.
There were public disputes between Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici and Minister for Industrial Renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, over how much government should intervene in industrial buyouts etc.
Depardieu, tax, entrepreneurs
Few issues so clearly illustrate where France is at.
The 75 per cent tax rate on earnings over a million euros, was one of Hollande’s most totemic campaign ideas. It was extremely popular with some voters, but in office has led to problems. Britain’s David Cameron mockingly declared that he would lay out the red carpet for French people fleeing for tax reasons. Deemed unfair by France’s Constitutional council, it was reworked twice. The current plan is that the tax would be paid by the companies who pay big salaries rather than the employees. A populist clause would exempt football teams paying high wages.
French entrepreneurs in the digital sector (who called themselves pigeons, meaning dupes in French) mounted a lightning but highly effective to quash plans to impose further taxes on them.
Most noisily of all, French cinema icon Gérard Depardieu, who also runs several businesses in France, sparked a gigantic national row when he bought a house in Belgium, it was assumed for tax reasons
It has all added up to a climate in which entrepreneurs and businesspeople say they feel misunderstood, despised and targeted.
In recent weeks, Hollande and the government appear to have woken up to the fact that not only the established wealthy, but also worrying numbers of young entrepreneurs seem to be leaving France (no figures are available but several recent magazine cover stories have highlighted the phenomenon.)
Potential job-creators are therefore leaving (frequently citing a hostile business climate) while at the same time more and more businesses are running into trouble, they will therefore pay less tax and there will be less money in the government coffers.
A recent attempt to encourage entrepreneurial skills in schoolchildren is a start but will make little impact in a country where there is a tradition of criticising financial success.
The Cahuzac Affair
Jérome Cahuzac, minister in charge of a crackdown on tax fraud admitted he had 600,000 euros in a secret bank account abroad. A massive scandal rocked the government, leading to allegations that the president and prime minister knew.
Hollande’s plan is to avoid austerity, to try to prevent cuts in public services impacting on the most needy. Many complain of austerity although economists say the cuts have not even begun. Unclear how the government will pay for promised 60,000 new teachers.
As a candidate, Hollande vowed to renegotiate European Fiscal Compact, which he then signed virtually unamended.
Hollande describes relationship with Germany as one of “amicable tension”. Some analysts of European affairs worry that his failure to stop repeated Germany-bashing from high-profile Socialists has gone down badly across the Rhine. Britain’s David Cameron is meanwhile actively wooing Germany.
Hollande declared in his manifesto that he would legalise gay marriage and adoption, and surveys showed support for the idea.
A massive grassroots campaign against the bill led to a slight drop in support for adoption by gay couples and revealed deep divisions among the French people and a growing culture war.
Supporters praise Hollande for courage in pushing forward with the bill. Critics maintain he badly misjudged the mood of the nation.
Many voted for Hollande primarily to be rid of Nicolas Sarkozy, whose vivid personality provoked either admiration or disapproval.
Hollande repeatedly described himself to voters as “normal”, explaining that he would be sobre, his personal life would remain private, and that he would not be a “hyper president” constantly in the limelight.
The insinuation was that Sarkozy was flashy, tacky and attention-seeking. Voters liked Hollande's persona at first but many now see him as uncharismatic, out of touch and unresponsive to their worries.
Two key moments are remembered:
- Many thought that Hollande’s treatment of Nicolas Sarkozy on the day of the presidential handover, a key image-creating moment, was petty and unstatesmanlike. He found praise for every post-war French president except Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he then failed to accompany to his waiting car.
- An unkind tweet concerning Hollande's former partner Ségolène Royal, sent by his current girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler, projected the jealous rivalry between the two women in his life (Royal is mother of his four children) onto the front pages of newspapers, destroying his promise to keep his private life under wraps.
On the other hand...
Hollande has been widely praised as brave and decisive for ordering French troops into Mali to stop the advance of islamists towards the capital.
He was given a rapturous welcome in Timbuktu by grateful locals, and French troops have begun withdrawal, though there is some concern about what will happen when they all leave.
Even though the media is in a state of almost permanent hysteria, talking of another French Revolution, or a return of 1930s, François Hollande intends to march on stoically.
Under the constitution, he will not face re election until 2017, by which time, much might have changed.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s right wing UMP party is still embroiled in factional infighting, blunting its effectiveness in parliamentary opposition.
But, as in much of Europe, polls show support for far right and far left parties is on the rise. Marine le Pen of the Front National and Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Front de Gauche are both effective media operators and the mood today in France is one of deep unease.