* First appearance after allegations of affair with actress
* French president will try to set out new reform agenda
* Questions over status of official partner Trierweiler
By Mark John
PARIS, Jan 14 President Francois Hollande will
aim at a news conference on Tuesday to set out plans to revive
the weak French economy and deflect questions about his private
life after allegations surfaced of a secret love affair with an
His New Year's encounter with journalists in his Elysee
Palace will be the French leader's first public appearance since
a celebrity magazine on Friday published photos it said showed
Hollande making a nocturnal visit to a lover.
His office complained of breach of privacy but did not issue
a denial. The saga took a surprise new turn on Sunday when it
emerged that his long-term partner, Valerie Trierweiler, had
been admitted to hospital in a state of shock.
"This major political event must remain a major political
event," David Assouline, spokesman for Hollande's Socialist
party, said of the 4:30 p.m. (1530 GMT) news conference, an
annual setpiece which could go on as long as two hours.
Hollande plans to use the event to detail a proposed
"responsibility pact" with business in which firms will be
offered tax cuts and less red tape in return for hiring
commitments aimed at reducing 12 percent unemployment.
But chances of the agenda being hijacked by the alleged
affair are high. A similar event staged by predecessor Nicolas
Sarkozy after his 2007 divorce was dominated by curiosity over
his ties to singer Carla Bruni, whom he subsequently wed.
While a poll at the weekend showed four-fifths of French
voters considered the matter a private affair for Hollande and
his family, the news of former journalist Trierweiler's
admission to hospital prompted critics to break their silence.
"This has been disastrous for the image of the institution
of the presidency," said Jean-François Cope, head of the
opposition UMP conservatives.
REFORM WINDOW TIGHT
Although France does not have an official First lady title,
Trierweiler has her own office in the Elysee, a chauffeur and
adviser, and accompanies Hollande on visits. Many pundits say it
is legitimate now to question what her actual status is.
"She knows it must be cleared up because the debate has
turned political," Frederic Gerschel, a reporter for the Le
Parisien daily, told RTL radio after speaking to Trierweiler.
Her office said she would remain in hospital for the time
being. "She needs to recover after the shock she suffered. She
needs peace and quiet," an aide said.
Worries are growing in the euro zone that France, its second
largest economy, will hold back a nascent recovery - fears borne
out by December manufacturing data that showed a strong pick-up
in most countries except France.
France's blue-chip stock index CAC 40 - home of
bellwethers such as Sanofi, L'Oreal and
Total - is down 0.8 percent, the worst performance
among European bourses in 2014.
Analysts are for now sceptical about whether Hollande is
really ready to act on his acknowledgement that France's high
public spending and taxation is restraining the economy and the
creation of new jobs.
They point to local French elections in May and European
Parliament polls two months later as limiting his room for
manoeuvre on painful measures to cut public spending, currently
around 57 percent of output.