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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs