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François Hollande

On May 05, 2012 François Hollande, the former leader of France’s Socialist Party, was elected president of France, defeating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Despite being one of France's best known politicians, the 57-year-old Hollande had never held a position in any national government prior to that time. Hollande had been on the French political scene for more than 30 years, climbing up through the ranks under the last Socialist president, François Mitterrand. Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn had been favored to win the Socialist Party nomination, but a sex scandal knocked him out of the race, opening the way for Mr. Hollande to defeat his remaining rival, Martine Aubry, in a primary election.

Socialist Party candidate François Hollande emerged as the frontrunner in the first round of presidential voting in France, with nearly compete results giving him more than 28 percent of the vote compared to 27 percent for conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy. The two men faced a runoff vote on 06 May 2012. There were no major surprises in the first round of the presidential election in France with polls consistently placing President Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger, Mr. Hollande, as the top vote-getters.

On May 15th, 2012 François Hollande was sworn in as the new president of France. Mr. Hollande assumed office during a modest ceremony at the Élysée (presidential) Palace in Paris. The new president was greeted at the Elysee hours prior to his swearing-in by outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr. Hollande is the first Socialist to become French president since François Mitterrand left office in 1995. During his nationally televised inaugural speech, the new president said he was ready to open “a new path” for his nation and Europe, with a new emphasis on growth, justice and what he described as “social democracy.”

Born 1954 in Rouen, Mr. Hollande is not married, though was formerly the partner of 2008 Socialist French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, who also attended with him the elite National School of Administration [ENA]. He served in the Élysée under Mitterrand as a junior Cabinet member. He served as a Deputy in the French National Assembly and president of the General Council of Corrèze, while also serving as the secretary-general of the Socialist Party for 11 years, before declaring himself candidate to the presidential election. Mr. Hollande’s electoral platform included economic policies such as raising taxes on the very rich, freezing fuel prices, increasing welfare payments and hiring 60,000 new teachers. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Hollande’s slogan of “my enemy is the world of finance” raised eyebrows, especially in some European capitals, including London.

During the 2012 campaign, he called for 75 percent tax on France's richest people, and cuting the president's salary by 30 percent. Hollande said he would not seek out far-right voters, declaring"I am not going to seek out voters from the extreme right, I will not try to seduce them. The far right has strong support at the moment and that is the fault of Nicolas Sarkozy". He also declared: "But some voters voted for the far right because they are angry [at Sarkozy]. They are the voters who I want to hear from." Hollande's campaign emphasized wanting to unite what he called a country divided by Sarkozy's failed policies. Hollande also called for renegotiating the fiscal pact - an economic agreement forged by the European Union to stabilize the euro currency - while also pushing for a greater focus on stimulus spending and growth rather than austerity; a popular proposal for some in France and in other European countries - notably Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal - but one received coolly by Germany.

There were other foreign-policy differences between Mr. Hollande and Mr. Sarkozy: the timing of French troops' withdrawal from from Afghanistan, and Mr. Sarkozy’s decision to bring France back into NATO’s integrated military structure. Hollande had said he wanted French troops out in 2012. Sarkozy had said 2013, while NATO and Washington had said 2014. Analysts expected that Mr. Hollande would not try to undo Mr. Sarkozy’s NATO policy, but predicted he would give it a fresh look; suggesting a possible return to a French foreign policy that is somewhat less Atlanticist than it had been under Sarkozy. Sarkozy was the most Atlanticist, pro-American president since World War Two in France.

The approval rating of French President François Hollande hit a new low in February 2014. The number of people in France dissatisfied with the policy being implemented by François Hollande, reached 79 percent, in a public opinion poll conducted every month by the Institute for Social Studies for the newspaper “Journal du Dimanche“. The number of opponents of the French head of state grew 2 per cent in the same period. A total of 39 percent of respondents said that they were “rather dissatisfied than satisfied” with the work of François Hollande. Another 40 percent said they “are strongly dissatisfied” with his policy. Hollande was elected to do something different, to do something that would make France move forward; and a large number of people felt that he was disappointing on that front.

Polls rated him as France's most unpopular president in recent history. Many French thought his government had not done enough to battle chronic high unemployment and the struggling economy. In the current situation in France it is really hard to do much quickly to resolve the economic crisis. France was struggling to cope with huge levels of unemployment. In December 2013, the Labor Ministry issued a report which showed that the number of people registered as “out of work” in mainland France had grown by 17,800 in November 2013 to 3.29 million. The government announced plans for 50 billion euro (US$68 billion) in spending cuts between 2015 and 2017, in an effort to revive the economy.

Hollande always said his strategy was to reform in the first half of his five-year mandate and reap the benefits in the second half. But by early 2014 time was running out if he was to set down a marker for more action. Unemployment was at record levels, there had been virtually no progress on reducing the country’s deficit and there was huge resentment over taxes which the president himself conceded in January 2014 had reached the limits of acceptability. There was little sign of economic growth, and for many low-income families a boost in purchasing power is a priority. In his 2012 presidential election campaign, Hollande vowed to unite and soothe what he judged to be a divided and angry country after Sarkozy’s presidency. Amid angry, sometimes violent demonstrations over everything from gay marriage to environmental taxes, many Socialists MPs conceded that he had conspicuously failed to create harmony.

The French voters in the 25 May 2014 EU Parliament vote certainly made clear their poor opinion of President Francois Hollande's economic policy, pushing his Socialists down to a miserable 13.8 percent. Hollande's prime minister, Manuel Valls, took immediate action, promising to push through planned tax cuts for people on low incomes. He acknowledged that the French people were fed up with high taxation under the current government. These results further dented Hollande’s already historically unpopular presidency, with a poll out on 25 May 2014 suggested that only 11 percent of the French wanted him to run for re-election in 2017.

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Page last modified: 27-05-2014 17:15:15 ZULU