Thursday, 16 May 2013

Un homme de nos jours (A man for our times)

Image: via Flickr
It has been a tough year for the President of France, François Hollande. Having been elected as candidate for the PS (the French socialist party) after a bruising battle against his ex-wife, Ségolène Royale and the Mayor of Lille (and daughter of Jacques Delors), Martine Aubry, he successfully defeated Nicolas Sarkozy, the diminutive incumbent, in the Presidential Election. The French presidency has been described as the only democratically elected monarchy in the world - typically  he or she enjoys more power than almost any other democratically elected leader. In fact, as an aside, this statement is quite literally true as one of the titles of the President of France is Co-Prince of the Principality of Andorra, the landlocked nation lying in the Pyrenees, traditionally founded by Charlemagne and where the official language is, uniquely, Catalan.

Anyway, enough of these amusing diversions, let’s get back to the plot. It was a case of so far, so good for Monsieur Hollande. Elected with a popular mandate to undo the reforms of Nicolas Sarkozy, with a supportive parliament and the necessary political power, the scene seemed set for radical action as François Hollande brought all of his executive experience to bear on the undoubted problems facing the French economy. Ah…there’s the rub. Aside from a period as Municipal Councillor for Ussel (no, I had to look it up too, to find it is a rural area about 50km from Clermont-Ferrand), the rest of his time has been spent as a career politician. This rather colourless background and lack of “operational” experience (for want of a better word) has led the French to give him the nickname “Flanby”, a type of wobbly, beige, somewhat bland and very sugary dessert.

His first year has been characterised by a lack of control over his own ministers – some of the diatribes from Industry Minister and left wing firebrand Arnaud Montebourg have made the wider campaign to “sell” France as an investment proposition to multinationals challenging to say the least. There has been the revelation that his budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac, had a secret Swiss bank account. Add to this mix the furore surrounding the 75% tax rate, an unseemly spat between his partner and ex-wife carried out via Twitter and the latest iTax proposition to levy a duty on all multimedia devices. I could go on, but already pressure is mounting on him to install Ségolène Royal and Martine Aubry into senior positions within his government. This has all rather reinforced the impression of a country not altogether happy with itself. Some might argue that this is a natural state of being for the French, but in the meantime François Hollande looks like being the least popular ruler of France since Louis XVI. In the meantime, following on from the unlikely, unexpected and unlooked for return of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, who would rule out the return of Nicolas Sarkozy in France?

Rob Burgeman
Regional Director - London

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