Hollande in Holland

By Sarah Brown

President Francois Hollande’s trip to the Netherlands last Monday marked the first time a French president has made an official visit to the country in 14 years.

It was Hollande in Holland — his first trip abroad since a Jan. 14 press conference at the Elysée, when he announced significant economic changes that have shaken Parti Socialiste supporters but have won praise from the right.

The trip marked the beginning of a series of foreign visits over the next few weeks, as Hollande, battling historically low approval ratings and a rocky personal situation, trumpets his new plans to bolster the French economy through a more free-market orientation and put Europe back on a positive financial track.

“It was a way to kind of distract, a way to refocus — to put Hollande back on track as a hardworking, clearly dedicated president,” said Philippe Marliere, a professor of French and European politics at University College London.

Besides Hollande’s alleged affair with Julie Gayet, current French political debate is swirling around his promises to curtail public spending and offer new tax cuts to companies, Marliere said, “the Left and his socialist supporters are very unhappy about this shift because Hollande is clearly turning back on his 2012 campaign promises.”

During the visit to the Netherlands, Hollande spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as part of a joint economic forum — allowing him to zero in on his political agenda without worrying about questions regarding the scandal.

Hollande spoke confidently of future Dutch-French relations and said that the two nations had more in common than one would think, highlighting ample opportunities to strengthen their partnership in industries like aerospace, technology, energy and sustainable development. Rutte echoed Hollande in emphasizing joint Dutch-French proposals, particularly with the European elections coming up in May.

Any message Hollande hoped to promote was, unsurprisingly, much overshadowed in the media by the “Gayetgate” clouds surrounding his personal life. Few headlines about the visit failed to mention former first lady Valerie Trierweiler or the affair.

When asked on Monday, Hollande had little to say about Trierweiler, who was released from the hospital last week after a week-long stay during which she was treated for “fatigue” and “stress.”

“Valerie Trierweiler is better and she is resting at the moment in La Lanterne residence,” he told reporters at a press conference in the Netherlands. “I have nothing else to say.”

The trip to the Netherlands didn’t have significant policy implications, Marliere said.

“When you look at the content — what was discussed and decided — it was fairly unimportant,” he said, “there was not much at stake.”

But as his approval ratings continue to slide, Hollande is trying to turn the international conversation toward the economy. While the French are unlikely to focus on the morality of Hollande’s alleged affair, Marliere explained, his personal life could come more into play if his new policies don’t lead France to financial improvement in the coming months.

“It is affecting his presidential function? Is his mind fully on the job? Is his mind focused enough to be freely performing?” Marliere asked rhetorically, “should this policy fail to tackle rising unemployment, pay freeze and austerity policies in the near future, Hollande will be in real trouble given that he’s already so unpopular and politically so weak. It’s make or break for him now.”

Now, Hollande will be focusing on upcoming visits to the Vatican and Turkey in the next week. He’s slated to come to the U.S. on a state visit in early February.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Hollande in Holland. President François Hollande’s trip to the Netherlands last Monday marked the first time a French president has made an official visit to the country in 14 years. It was Hollande in Holland — his first trip abroad since a January 14 press conference at the Elysée, when he announced significant economic changes that have shaken Parti Socialiste supporters but have won praise from the right. The trip marked the beginning of a series of foreign visits over the next few weeks, as Hollande, battling historically low approval ratings and a rocky personal situation, trumpets his new plans to bolster the French economy through a more free-market orientation and put Europe back track towards economic recovery. […]

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