The President of France: Francois Hollande

A dull character with a colorful reputation, Francois Hollande, the President of France, is feeling the burn that accompanies the spotlight of international politics. Hollande faces global media scrutiny for just about everything he has said and done as a career politician. From his scandalous adventures as an adulteress, to his continued failure to slow the skyrocketing unemployment rates in France, if you are in the mood to sling mud—he’s your guy. As the second socialist President of France, scrupulous judgment from the French right wing is expected, but Hollande has received public criticism from both the right and left, including long-time allies within his party.

The demise of the Hollande administration’s approval began the day Francois Hollande took office, being sworn in mid-May, 2013, and labeled “The Worst Politician in the World” by mid-July (Top Tens World). The constant media coverage of politicians in a globalizing world makes it difficult for high-level government officials, such as Hollande, to maintain a positive image in the national and global arenas. The majority of media and news articles written in disapproval of Hollande as both a person and politician have, over the past year and a half, contained less and less evidence of real failure as President and increasingly more political confabulations and gossip, contributing to the now constant defamation of Hollande’s reputation. Political mudslinging is far easier to do than policymaking and actual political analysis, it is doubtful many French news writers know the details of Hollande’s work or the full spectrum of duties and powers of a French President. To take a step away from the constant bashing of Hollande, a fair and practical analysis of President Francois Hollande is underway. Who is Francois Hollande?

Let’s start at the beginning: Hollande is an average Frenchman, born in Rouen, France, to a middle-class family in 1954. His father is a doctor, his mother, a social worker. The Right-wing ideology of his father and progressive mentality of his mother creates a politically-stimulating home environment. Hollande attends public and boarding school, and chooses to attend the Institut de Sciences Politiques (higher education institute of Political Science/law school) and then École des Hautes Études Commerciales (the top business school of France). Hollande develops a strong Leftist ideology in his time at secondary school, and is now well-recognized for his unbroken dedication to the socialist party. While at University, Hollande meets Ségolène Royal, who eventually lives as his domestic partner and mothers their four children together. While still a student in 1974, Hollande volunteers for François Mitterrand’s second unsuccessful presidential campaign as Mitterrand runs to be the first socialist president of France. In 1979, Hollande officially joins the Socialist Party. Mitterand runs successfully for presidency a third time and appoints Hollande as a junior economic advisor. Hollande remained in this position until he left the cabinet to work for Max Gallo, the press secretary to former prime-minister Pierre Mauroy.

In 1983, Hollande began to serve in the town council in Ussel, France. In 1988, Hollande wins election to the National Assembly (the lower house of bicameral parliament in France) for Tulle, Corrèze. Hollande loses re-election in 1993, and the Left loses majority in parliament. Hollande reclaims his seat in 1997, the Left returns to power and Francois Hollande becomes National Secretary of Economic Affairs for the Socialist Party and succeeds Prime Minister Lionel Jospin as the new leader of the Socialist Party. Hollande was elected mayor of Tulle in 2001, and remained mayor until 2008. Ségolène Royal unsuccessfully ran for president in 2007 despite Francois’ advisory not to do so. Immediately after her defeat, Hollande and Royal separate. After the falling out of the political power-couple, Royal publishes a book, bashing Hollande. She accuses Hollande of having an affair with Valerie Trierweiler, a political journalist. Hollande admits to the affair, he and Trierweiler begin domestic partnership.

As a Member of Parliament, Hollande becomes President of the Corrèze General Council on March 20th, 2008, and gives up his role as leader of the Socialist Party. In March of 2011, Francois Hollande makes an announcement that he will seek the Socialist Party nomination for president. On October 22nd, 2011, Hollande is appointed as the candidate for the Socialist Party for France’s 2012 Presidential Election. On May 6th, 2012, François Hollande is elected as seventh President of the Fifth Republic of France. Hollande replaced President Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande is now the second socialist President of the Fifth Republic after François Mitterrand (France.fr). Hollande’s acceptance speech in his hometown of Tulle seems bland and underwhelming (von Rohr). Other reports explain his demeanor to be quit and stern, a man with a disposition that reflects his determination to lead. Valerie Trierweiler takes position as first lady.

While having a slightly scandalous personal reputation and a lightly decorated background of political leadership and experience, Francois Hollande enters into office with an ambivalent reputation. The first action Francois Hollande takes as president is within the cabinet. Hollande lowers the lawful income of the president, prime minister and other members of administration by 30% and makes them sign a code of ethics (BBC). This action is respectable and somewhat admirable, it shows a dedication to the middle and lower classes of France, who are facing the impact of severe economic recession. The next major and inevitable task that Hollande takes as president is working to uplift the dwindling French economy. Francois Hollande attempts to pursue one of his campaign promises, to tax the wealthy up to 75%. This high tax is quickly deemed unconstitutional by the French government and receives much criticism from the French public. This bold effort not only frustrates the upper class citizens of France, it also aggravates the lower classes of the French public, and marks Hollande’s failure to fulfill his campaign manifesto.

A more successful effort of economic reform, is Hollande’s [adjusted] 2013 budget law. While still relying heavily on tax increase, the law calls for 20 billion euros in additional taxes, 10 billion euros from corporations and 10 billion euros from citizens. In addition to taxes on capital gains, an increase to inheritance charges and an exit-tax for entrepreneurs selling their businesses are put in place. The Hollande administration also creates a 45 percent tax bracket for incomes exceeding 150,000 euros per year (BBC). Other economic efforts of the administration aim at freeing up the housing and construction sector, this will eliminate superfluous procedures for businesses (Republic of France). Many of these economic efforts have the support of high-level politicians and economists of the socialist party in France. However, the heavy tax on wealthy businessmen is so deeply resented by the people that many rich Frenchman leave France because the new taxes.

Francois Hollande pledges support for LGBT social reform on the campaign trail, and follows up on this promise while in office. Hollande, on multiple occasions, publicly backs same-sex marriage and advocates for the rights of LGBT couples while campaigning. In March of 2012, Jean-Marc Ayrault (a member of the cabinet), makes an announcement in the National Assembly of France, that in the first half of 2013, the right to marriage and adoption will be open to all couples, without discrimination (Le Figaro). Francois Hollande makes a powerful remark in light of this effort of social reformation, he states: “Each country has a soul, and France’s soul is equality.” However, the political actions taken to legalize LGBT marriage in France spark controversy across the nation. 340,000 French citizens descended upon the Eiffel tower in an anti-gay marriage demonstration, signifying the largest gathering for a social issue in France for 30 years. Despite bitter debates among politicians, and violent social demonstrations among citizens, Hollande’s promise to end marriage discrimination holds true in May, 2013 when the bill is passed (Miller Llana). The gay-rights bill made it through Parliament in late April, receiving approval from the French constitutional court in late May and is signed into law by Hollande days later (France 24).  While many politicians and citizens protested against the gay-rights bill, the passage of the bill provided hope for many LGBT French people and satisfied many members of the French Left.

Hollande works to improve the education system in France. Hollande successfully reduces the school-week to four and a half days, a union-supported action. Hollande now pledges to create 60,000 new teaching jobs, develop a legitimate body to write curriculum, and to launch an online education program over the course of five years (Education International). With little framework laid to turn these goals into policy that will lead effective reform, at this point in time, these promises are lofty and questionable. It is considerably wrong for such a high-level government official to make pledges of substantial reform to the families and youth of France, without putting forth real efforts or writing legislation in order to achieve these goals—if the goals are not met, the already disappointed public is severely frustrated. While Hollande is under fire for the continuous downfall of unemployment and failure to stimulate the recessive economy, empty promises of education reform is not the ideal political move. The promise of creating “60,000 new teaching jobs” may be the new “taxing the wealthy 75%.”

Nevertheless, in a separate effort of education reform Hollande is actively working to enforce a no-homework policy for all of France’s public schools. Hollande claims “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.” This effort to eliminate homework from the French school system is commonly speculated not to be a Presidential concern, and has received criticism from public officials serving as education executives, it is not something Hollande seems to be backing down. Francois Hollande states, “I am the president of the youth of France,” showing clear support and dedication to his work in education reformation. It is too soon to determine the success or failure of Hollande’s efforts of education reform, but from the outside looking in, it appears he is dedicated to improving the education system of France.

Major labor reform proves to be a signature piece of legislation under the Hollande administration. The labor reform bill, introduced in early 2012, passed through both levels of parliament and into law in early 2013. The bill allows companies to temporarily cut workers’ salaries or hours during times of economic difficulty in attempt to prevent large-scale firings (DiLorenzo). These measures provide job security for laborers and greater flexibility to employers, ultimately slowing the rising unemployment rates in France. Another measure of the bill tackles the current trend of lengthy legal battles among businesses and employees after layoffs or firings. The new law shortens the amount time that employees have to contest a layoff, it also lays out a scheme for severance pay (DiLorenzo). The bill also improves worker mobility by requiring all companies to partially pay for supplemental health insurance, so that employees will not be burdened to remain in their current job position in order to protect their benefits, as they have been in the past. This new mobility of workers will make it easier for the unemployed to find new jobs, and for current workers to find new places of employment if desired (DiLorenzo). This bill was, as one would expect, not favored by the conservatives in France, but also faced criticism from the left. The passage of the bill required months of negotiations among the government, employers and trade unions (Erlanger and Jolly). Much of the criticism regarding the process of passing the labor reform bill is directed at Hollande, insisting he reorganize the cabinet. Labor unions express disapproval in Hollande’s failure to thoroughly include them in the negotiation processes. Criticism from the right, predictably, is directed at Hollande and the bill itself.

Hollande, under pressure from the European Union, attempts to tackle necessary pension reform in late 2012 and early 2013. France’s pension system is highly prized but severely underfunded. With the estimate that the system will cause a deficit of 20 billion euros by 2020, reform is simply necessary. Hollande moved for an increase in the pay-period of pension contributions of 2.5 years, from 41.5 to 43 years by 2035. The increase in the pay-period would require employees to work longer in order to receive full pension benefits, a measure that was not well received by the public of France. The new pension plan proposes increasing employee and employer contributions to France’s retirement system, without an increase of retirement age or the imposition of new taxes. Despite many rejections and amendments, the pension reform bill is finally passed and officially adopted in February, 2014. The bill faces intense criticism and the adjustments to the pension system are far from favored by the public of France.

In early April, 2014, President Hollande appoints Segolene Royal to his cabinet. Despite her rocky personal history with Hollande, Royal is a reputable politician, being the first woman to receive the nomination of candidacy from a major party in France when she ran in 2007. Hollande appoints Royal to be post of energy and environmental administer

Francois Hollande is an advocate for peace diplomatically and in operation. Hollande relies heavily on the United Nations as a vessel for international correspondence. As promised in his campaign, Hollande has removed all French combat troops from Afghanistan in 2012. France was one of the largest military contributors in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and has successfully pulled troops ahead of NATO’s timetable of withdrawal.

Hollande became involved with the Islamic militant crisis in Mali, in the spring of 2012. Hollande and the French military forces work with the United Nations to promote peace in the region. At the request of the Malian government, Hollande initiated a mission to intervene, known as Operation Serval, preventing Islamist militants from advancing toward the capital of Mali (Marcus). With France taking the lead role in the mission and the combined efforts of the EU and UN the intervention is turning toward a peace operation in West Africa. However, the abilities of the Islamist militants was underestimated, and the French government is constantly facing the choice of further intervention or allowing the militants to rise in Mali and West Africa (Marcus). Malian people support the mission, Hollande promised that the French government would do all it could to rebuild Mali (BBC). Hollande visited Bamako, Mali’s capital, on 2 February 2013, stating it was “the most important day in his political life” (The Economist). Hollande made a crucial decision to spread troops throughout Sahel under Operation Barkhane as an effort to curb jihadists and other religionist militants in order to create long-term security in the region (Chrisafis).

The political battles that Hollande fights are not partisan, nor are they with the public of France, President Hollande consistantly insists his struggle is with the world of finance. Hollande makes this clear, he says “My real adversary has no name, no face, no party. It will never be elected, yet it governs – the adversary is the world of finance.” This statement can be interpreted in many different ways. He could be referring to the European economic crisis, the tax system in France, the economic system in France, economic inequality, perhaps he has a bad tract record in personal accounting—perhaps all of the above. In any case, it has never been Hollande’s intention to be in adversity French people or international reporters and politicians. Even further, it is doubtful that the public disapproval bothers him at all. Hollande is not serving the country of France to give temporary and immediate happiness to the citizens, rather, Hollande aims to, “initiate a long-term change in society.” While President Hollande’s actions may be seen as bold, and are easily criticized, all great world leaders have taken major risks to initiate positive change, present disapproval is a small price to pay for long-term social and economic progress.

We not only need to re-evaluate Francois Hollande as a President, but also our means of analysis when it comes to the judgment of Political leaders. In contemporary politics, the common source of blame for lack of progress is head of state. The downward spiral of unemployment in France is not President Hollande’s doing, it is an inherited economic state. An incoming president doesn’t receive a clean economic or social slate upon entering into office. Hollande demonstrates a dedication to economic and social reform, and has put forth great effort in foreign affairs. Hollande is a leader with an unbreakable commitment to serve France, confidence in his method of societal change, and a strong ideology.

The caution and diligence that Hollande portrays in tackling unemployment in France, which appears to be the main reason for disapproval of the president, is severely under-appreciated. Hollande states: “My mission is to put France back on its feet. The priority is employment. Efforts have to be made, but those efforts must be made fairly.” Commonly, his caution to make “fair” efforts to create jobs in France is interpreted as cowardly. Hollande practices caution in measures the public would like to see boldness, such as the pursuit of lowering unemployment in France, and Holland practices boldness in efforts the public wishes to see caution and fairness, such as the attempt to impose a 75% tax on the wealthy.

Unfortunately, after a year of presidency, he has showed himself to be anything but a successful leader. Hollande has been a wishy-washy politician and an unfaithful partner. His ex-partner, Valerie Trierweiler, has labeled him to be a closet elitist and a man who despises the poor (Learson). The politician he portrays himself to be is [allegedly] far from who he really is. When a politician’s personal life is entirely transparent to the public, a situation like Francois Hollande’s is predictable. In a sense, he is the French Bill Clinton, but with less political credibility. In a world with such extreme media coverage, perhaps we hold our politicians to a new high standard of moral character—on and off of the clock.

There are new rumors of turmoil within the administration, and numerous reports of Hollande requesting the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, to form a new government. None of these reports have been confirmed or denied.

Francois Hollande’s reputation as a socialist inconsistently fluctuates throughout the entirety of his political career. With the reputation of being a “solid left,” Hollande gained different notoriety when former conservative President Jaques Chirac described him to be a “true statesman” who is willing to work across party lines (BBC).

and they remain together until late January, 2014, when she leaves her position as first lady after rumors of Hollande having a two-year affair with actress Julie Gayet become a public scandal (Martinez and Gumuchian). Trierweiler then writes a tell-all about her relationship with Hollande and his affair with Gayet.

Francois Hollande was never popular in the conservative realm of France. In the past year, his approval ratings have rapidly declined, even within his own party. Hollande has faced constant media attention regarding public disapproval of his unfaithful personal life and turbulent policymaking. Francois Hollande has undergone two public separations with domestic partners after two (separate) cheating scandals. In a sense, Hollande is the Bill Clinton of France, but with far lower approval ratings. The failing economic and social reform Hollande that has attempted to implement in France has not been well received by the public of France.

Hollande’s domestic policy efforts are considered impractical by many French politicians across party lines. His public disapproval is accredited to his public policy failures, with a recent survey showing 80% of responders have not changed their opinion on the president regarding allegations of infidelity and the president’s personal life (Martinez and Gumuchian). Facing open criticism from well-respected members of the socialist party, such as Arnaud Montebourg, a very ambitious rising star of the socialist party in France and former ally of Hollande. The situation of unemployment in France is getting worse, GDP is stagnant, both domestic and foreign business is down (Tiersky). With very little hope for domestic improvements in France under Hollande’s administration, it is unlikely that he will seek re-election. There is also the potential course of action, that he may remain in office and will continue to build a legacy of foreign policy success in Mali and Iraq, but the likelihood of President Hollande winning re-election is slim.

The common idea that: ‘France just can’t have a socialist President at a time of economic turmoil,’ irks the question—can we achieve socialist economic sustainability? Or, even further, if a President of another party were in office, would unemployment rates in France be lower, or higher, perhaps? Food for thought.

How does Hollande match up to other politicians? He may not be the perfect French President, but in comparison to Kim Jong Il of North Korea, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, or Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Hollande is far from making the list of the world’s worst politicians. The state of contemporary Western politics is far different from that of Central Africa and the Middle East, the regions are simply facing different issues. In conclusion, with a global standard of judgment, President Hollande just does not measure up among the truly worst politicians of recent world history.

 

Works Cited

BBC. “France Hollande: Ayrault Government Takes Pay Cut.” BBC World News Europe, 17 May 2012.

—. “French President Hollande pledges to help rebuild Mali.” BBC News Europe, 2 February 2013.

—. “Profile: Francois Hollande.” 15 May 2013.

Chrisafis, Angelique. “Mali: high stakes in ‘Hollande’s war’.” The Guardian, 13 January 2013.

DiLorenzo, Sarah. “France approves major labor reform package.” Associated Press, 14 May 2013.

Education International. “France: unions evaluate government’s reform plans .” 5 November 2012.

Erlanger, Steven and David Jolly. “French Lawmakers Loosen Labor Rules in a Victory for the President.” 2013: New York Times, n.d.

France 24. “French constitutional court approves gay-marriage bill.” 2013, n.d.

France.fr. “Francois Holland.” La Documentation Francais, n.d.

Le Figaro. “Le mariage et l’adoption homosexuels pour début 2013.” 2012, n.d.

Learson, Leslie. “French President Francois Hollande’s ex-girlfriend writes tell-all book.” NY Daily News, 3 September 2013.

Marcus, Johnathon. “Can France achieve its goals in Mali?” BBC, 17 January 2013.

Martinez, Michael and Marie-Louise Gumuchian. “French president says it’s over; first lady leaves residence.” CNN, 25 January 2014.

Miller Llana, Sarah. “France approves gay marriage after surprisingly violent debate.” Christian Science Monitor, 23 April 2013.

Radius World Wide. “France: Pension Reform Bill Clears National Assembly.” 21 November 2013.

Republic of France. “PROJET DE LOI DE FINANCES POUR.” ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND FINANCIAL REPORT. 2014.

The Economist. “The Bamako effect: Will France’s intervention in Mali make François Hollande popular at home?” 7 February 2013.

Tiersky, Ronald. “Francois Hollande in Purgatory.” The World Post, 29 August 2014.

Top Tens World. “Top 10 Worst Politicians in the World – 2013.” 19 July 2013.

von Rohr, Mathieu. “France’s New President: François Hollande Must Quickly Hit His Stride.” Spiegel International, 7 May 2012.