News / Europe

France's Hollande Has Tight Window to Step up Reform Pace

French President Francois Hollande presents his New Year wishes to the French Army after visiting special forces troops at Creil military airbase in Creil, near Paris, Jan. 8, 2014.
French President Francois Hollande presents his New Year wishes to the French Army after visiting special forces troops at Creil military airbase in Creil, near Paris, Jan. 8, 2014.
Reuters
The coming weeks will tell whether Francois Hollande can pick up the pieces of his accident-prone presidency and start to pull the euro zone's second-largest economy out of decline. It may be his last chance to do so.
    
The new year could hardly have started worse for the French leader, who failed to keep a promise to the nation to halt the rise in unemployment by the end of 2013 and is now dealing with media allegations of a secret love affair.
    
Photos in a celebrity magazine published last week purporting to show a nocturnal visit by Hollande to a mistress risk stealing the show on Tuesday when he faces media for up to two hours in the traditional start-of-year news conference.

The French magazine 'Closer' with photos of President Francois Hollande and actress Julie Gayet on its front page, is presented in a newspaper stall on the Champs Elysee Avenue in Paris, Jan. 10, 2013.
The French magazine 'Closer' with photos of President Francois Hollande and actress Julie Gayet on its front page, is presented in a newspaper stall on the Champs Elysee Avenue in Paris, Jan. 10, 2013.

Hollande's office has complained of breach of privacy but issued no denial. Yet with polls showing most French are blase about his private life, the real question is whether he will use the media event to show he is ready to tackle the double burden on the French economy: rising taxes and public spending.
    
"As is often the case, there are good intentions. But we will judge the deeds," said analyst Bruno Cavalier at Paris-based Oddo Securities.
    
The Socialist Hollande, who in his 2012 election campaign labeled the world of finance his enemy, ignited speculation of a U-turn with a New Year's address to the nation offering business leaders a "responsibility pact" trading lower taxes and less red tape for company commitments to hire more staff.
    
Striking a new tone which has already raised hackles with unions, he also declared it was time to stamp out the abuses of France's generous welfare state, and cut public spending so as to create room for tax reductions after a series of rises.
    
Some see echoes of the about-turn made 30 years ago by Hollande's mentor Francois Mitterrand, who in 1983 halted a policy of nationalization and expansion of worker benefits just two years into his mandate as public finances crumbled.
    
About time too, say those who argue that public spending at around 57 percent of national output - some 12 points more than that in Germany - is a burden the economy cannot afford. French debt at 93.4 percent of GDP and rising is now "in the danger zone", the national audit office warned last week.

'Francois Blair' or French Gerhard Schroeder?
    
The prospect of a policy shift has been applauded by France's main employers federation Medef, due to start talks in coming week with Hollande's government on tax cuts it hopes will restore corporate margins among the weakest in Europe.
    
Left-wing newspaper L'Humanite dubbed him "Francois Blair" after the centrist British prime minister who dreamed up "New Labour" pragmatism, while others asked whether Hollande would follow the reforms implemented in Germany in the last decade.
    
"What indeed if, after 18 months of empty words and drift, Francois Hollande became the French Gerhard Schroeder?" Marc Touati of the ACDEFI economic consultancy asked, referring to the Social Democrat ex-chancellor who implemented painful labor market reform in the 2000s.
    
But he predicted "This is a sort of bluffing tactic intended to gain time, soften up ratings agencies and investors but which will not result in hard measures."
    
Such skepticism is understandable. Pension and labor reforms implemented last year, while significant first steps, have hardly broken the mould. Projected 2014 French growth of just one percent will struggle to create private sector jobs.
    
So far, this year's budget foresees public spending cuts of 15 billion euros or some 0.7 percent of GDP. Yet the government still has to explain how the bulk of these will be achieved before it goes on to examine further possible cuts.
    
Moreover the rapprochement with business risks alienating the moderate CFDT trade union which has so far been a vital ally to Hollande, backing pension and other reforms despite resistance from other, more hardline, labor organizations.
    
"I am issuing a warning: the trade unions have got to be players in all this," CFDT Secretary-General Laurent Berger said last week, insisting there could be no "blank cheque" for companies without benefits to labor as well.
    
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 time is running out if he is to set down a marker for more action this year.
    
Local elections to decide who runs major French cities are to be held in March, followed by European Parliament elections in May where the far-right is seen doing well. Any policy shift must be well bedded-down before then.
    
"We believe the political agenda is at risk of completely freezing up in the run-up [to the elections]," Barclays economist Fabrice Montagne said.
    
"However, the president has a window of opportunity in January's round of New Year wishes to clarify the government's policies and intentions before the start of the campaign."
    
Hollande may conclude he has nothing to lose now from taking a few risks. A survey by pollster Ifop released in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper this weekend showed little impact on his poll ratings from the allegations of a secret affair.
    
With Hollande currently enjoying little more than 20 percent of support, Ifop deputy chief Frederic Dabi noted: "He is already so unpopular that it hasn't changed anything."

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid