Hollande Seeks to Rally Support at Press Conference

President François Hollande. Photo: flickr.com/jmayrault

President François Hollande.
Photo: flickr.com/jmayrault

François Hollande, facing approval ratings of roughly 25%, the lowest of any French president over the past 50 years, and opposition from within his own party, tried to rally support in a press conference last Thursday, May 16.

Since his election last year, Hollande’s poll ratings have steadily declined, apart from a brief boost following France’s intervention in Mali. Hollande, who is plagued with a stagnant economy and an unsatisfied political base, laid out plans for the Eurozone and tried to emphasize his administration’s achievements.

Hollande opened the 2 and a half hour conference by addressing the French operations in Mali. He said that the intervention, France’s latest in Africa, highlighted “France’s major role” in the continent.

He then addressed France’s economic woes. He told viewers that the EU’s economic crisis was over, saying, “what’s hitting Europe right now is not the financial crisis, but a recession.”

Hollande promised further integration of France into the EU and a strengthening of the European community. His plans included a focused continental plan for youth unemployment, a European renewable energy community, and further fiscal integration into the Eurozone.

Questioned on his perceived inability to make big decisions, Hollande defended his record, saying, “I have been making decisions since day one.” He cited the French withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Mali intervention as examples of his leadership.

When asked if his administration had mishandled the economic recovery in light of France’s double-dip recession, Hollande dodged the question. He instead reiterated his commitment to growth and greater purchasing power in France.

He defended his Socialist credentials, promising to defend French pensioners’ benefits and attempting to quell public fears of austerity, while arguing that the Socialist Party’s platform was fully compatible with prosperity.

Europea gave Hollande’s speech a varied response. The European Commission called Hollande’s ideas “food for thought.” Speaking to reporters, Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said, “we welcome [France’s] desire to get involved … regarding the deepening economic and political union.”

Other analysts, however, were less enthusiastic. Some saw Hollande’s speech as an attempt to regain the influence and prestige that France has lost to Germany in recent years.

“Everything we’re hearing from Hollande, we’ve already heard from Sarkozy,” said one EU official. “There’s nothing new.”

Analyst Wolfgang Munchau said that Hollande “repeated ideas that are known to be no-go zones for Germany. So it looks like a window-dressing exercise.”

Germany, unsurprisingly, featured heavily in Hollande’s remarks. Germany-led austerity measures have caused widespread anger in the EU, and French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici recently blamed them for Europe’s continued economic sluggishness.

Hollande told reporters that he hoped to find common ground with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to resolve the Eurozone crisis. He also pointed out Germany’s slide from 0.6% to 0.1% in the last quarter, saying that Germany was in a sharper recession than France.

The fact remains, however, that it is France, not Germany, where a negative growth rate exists. Over the last two quarters, the French economy has posted a dismal -0.2% rate.

Hollande’s proposal that the EU raise money by issuing bonds is unlikely to shrink the gap between France and Germany. The possibility has been brought up repeatedly in the last three years, and Germany has invariably rejected it.

The reaction in the German press was mixed. The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung accused Hollande of taking a needlessly divisive tone towards Germany. The Handelsblatt business daily was more accommodating, pointing out that Hollande had recognized the importance of the Franco-German relationship and that Merkel herself had said she had a good relationship with Hollande.

French responses to the speech have likewise been varied. Writing for Le Monde, Hélène Bekmezian saw the conference as a success, saying that Hollande had convincingly addressed common concerns and “demonstrated once again his mastery of the art of political synthesis.”

Not all were satisfied, however. The far left — which has arguably been as ferociously critical of Hollande as the right — stayed unimpressed, with Senator Maire-Noëlle Lienemann (Paris) calling herself “disappointed, very disappointed” on the issue of pensions.

However one interprets Hollande’s second press conference, one fact is indisputable: Hollande’s popularity is alarmingly low, and, with a still tepid French economy, it would take an act of political genius to recover his stature in the public eye.

Hollande told reporters that popularity does not concern him now and that he expects to vindicate himself by the end of his term in 2017. But with a small political capital and a paucity of domestic victories, it is far from clear how Hollande can make good on that promise.

 

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  1. […] poll stated that the approval ratings of Hollande and his Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault are at a record low, a high rate of dissatisfaction that is also the case for the ministers of Bercy. 70% of the French […]

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