One year on, France's Hollande says he will weather poll slump

PARIS Sun Apr 28, 2013 11:17am EDT

French President Francois Hollande (C) arrives for a visit to the Institut Pasteur Shanghai as part of a two-day state visit in Shanghai, April 26, 2013. REUTERS/Peter Parks/Pool

French President Francois Hollande (C) arrives for a visit to the Institut Pasteur Shanghai as part of a two-day state visit in Shanghai, April 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Peter Parks/Pool

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's Francois Hollande said he was undeterred by a first year in power marked by economic slowdown and a record slump in his personal popularity, arguing his 5-year presidency would achieve results over time.

In comments to correspondents from Reuters and Agence France Presse a week before the anniversary of his May 2012 election win over Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande shrugged off polls showing his popularity rating around 25 percent, after the sharpest fall for any president in over half a century.

"I'm aware how serious the situation is. It's a president's duty to stay the course and to look beyond today's squalls. It's called perseverance," Hollande said.

"People can criticize my decisions, think I am on the wrong track or have not taken the right route, but if there is one thing I am sure of it's that I have taken major decisions for France - many more in 10 months than were taken in 10 years."

Hollande, France's first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand, is squeezed between a business sector clamoring for lower taxes and labor costs, euro zone partners pressing for budget cuts and households hostile to austerity measures.

He said he would persevere with measures to restore growth like corporate tax credits aimed at easing headcount costs and a labor reform set to become law in May.

"It's the president who is held to account, and that's quite legitimate. It's up to me to weigh up what I need to do for the country today. To remain in control by being sure of my ideas."

RALLY THE NATION

After his campaign pledges to revive the flagging industrial sector, end a relentless rise in unemployment and meet deficit-cutting targets, Hollande has had to row back on almost all his economic targets, as factory layoffs continue apace.

While he stands by a goal to turn around unemployment by year-end, few believe he can achieve that. Jobless claims rose for the 23rd straight month in March to an all-time high.

Treading a delicate line as he attempts step-by-step reforms that were not part of his election campaign, Hollande said the country should have faith in him.

"The only thing that counts is the results. I have made promises and I will be judged on them," he said. "My hope is to rally the nation and restore confidence. That will take time, but it's my sole objective."

His economic woes aside, Hollande is also suffering from a perception that since he took power France is losing its voice on European policy. His prime minister said this month that France was losing its leadership role.

Foreign investors are watching closely since the government admitted it would need an extra year to reach a European Union budget deficit ceiling of 3 percent of output.

Inside France, where a scandal over an ex-budget minister's secret Swiss bank account has not helped, polls show a slim majority of people would prefer Sarkozy to be president today.

"I realized a long time ago that I would not go far if I let the commentary get to me," Hollande said. "According to what was said about me as a candidate, I had no chance of becoming president."

(Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Comments (1)
Ben9731 wrote:
There is something seriously wrong with the Western political systems, if term after term, year after year, no incumbent government can ever get things right. In-fighting between political factions (and even intra-party conflict), silly scandals, and government susceptibility to populist demands (e.g. France’s ridiculous proposal for a 75% tax rate on the rich) are causing governments to become paralyzed and unable to deal DECISIVELY on any serious issue.

Note this isn’t just a case of France: such problems are happening in many other Western countries too. UK, Japan, US (especially), Greece, Italy, to cite just a few. Even the newly become democratic countries in the Middle East such as Egypt and Libya are unable to prove they can provide strong leadership. It strikes me as strange that these people who so viciously shed their blood in the name of democracy have absolutely no idea how to implement a functioning political system.

What use is government if populist and ill-thought demands simply prevent governments from making unpopular but strategically important decisions? I bet more than 50% of voters never even read a election manifesto; I bet many of these voters all think electing politicans is a game/popularity contest, and make their choice either on a single policy (whilst ignoring the other more important, and dare I say complicated one), or make a choice based on peer influences and personal affection towards the party/president.

We need to abandon the stigma of associating non-democratic systems with no due process/rule of law, or repression of human rights. It is possible to have one without the other.

Perhaps it is time to abandon democracy in favour of meritocratic one-party rule.

Apr 28, 2013 10:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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