François Hollande heading for crisis as he fails to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment

The French President staked his political credibility on a fall in the number of unemployed by the end of the year, but the figures are not going his way. What now for France’s increasingly unpopular leader, asks John Lichfield

Paris

President François Hollande suffered a blow tonight to what remains of his credibility with news that he had failed to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment by the end of this year.

Anxiously awaited jobless figures for November showed that the number of people without employment in France had increased by 17,500, almost wiping out a modest a reduction in French dole queues in October.

Tonight’s news made a chilling close to an annus horribilis for Mr Hollande, whose approval ratings have fallen faster and further in 2013 than for any head of state since France switched to a presidential system 50 years ago.

The President had staked his remaining political capital on a “reversal in  the curve of unemployment” by the end of 2013. In other words the jobless rate would stop rising and begin to fall back.  

Since his election 19 months ago, Mr Hollande has abandoned, forgotten or modified many promises but not this one. His mantra was consistent, despite the mockery of opponents and the doubts of economists. The promised fall in unemployment would be achieved.

The December statistics published next month will give Mr Hollande another chance to claim success. He insisted last night that the overall employment picture was improving and that his promised “turning of the tide” was under way. But yesterday’s figures will therefore be taken by critics and opposition politicians as proof that “Hollandism” – by its own definition – is failing. 

The number of people out of work in France rose to 3,555,200 (including overseas territories) or roughly 10.5 per cent. This almost wiped out the 19,900 fall in the number of jobless in October – a figure that was seized upon by ministers as the first glimmering of an economic dawn.

The Employment Minister, Michel Sapin, said tonight that the overall picture remained “volatile” but encouraging.

If figures were taken over a number of months, and part-time working was taken into account, “we are in a period of amelioration”, he said. Mr Hollande said the promised “reversal of the curve has genuinely begun”.

In headline terms, this is unlikely to wash.

Critics will point to the fact that thousands of jobs have been “artificially” created by state investment in youth employment schemes and by a programme to cut payroll taxes for small and medium businesses.

They will also point to the gloomy employment and economic forecasts for 2014 made this month by Insee, the independent state agency which analyses the trends of the French economy.

Insee said that unemployment would continue on a broadly rising curved until the middle of next year.

France would end 2013, the agency said, barely out of recession with 0.2 per cent growth. This “fitful” recovery would continue through the first two quarters of 2014.

Tonight’s figures were a disappointment to a government which has spent most of 2013 fighting bad news – or fighting among themselves.  Socialist Party leaders are already prepared for a double electoral humiliation in municipal election in March and the European elections in May.

President Hollande’s economic policy has been based on consensual, limited reforms, a series of much disputed tax hikes to reduce the state budget deficit but no large cuts in the sprawling French state.

The failure of the French economy to respond has been thrown into sharper relief by the success of the German economy and the somewhat stronger signs of recovery in Britain.

Mr Hollande told ministers at the beginning of his administration in May 2012 that they would face two or three rocky years but would reap the benefits of an economic turn-around in time for the Presidential and parliamentary elections of 2017. Even Mr Hollande did not expect such a deep freeze in the public mood.

Sources in the Elysée Palace say that the placid Mr Hollande has been shocked by the collapse of his approval ratings since September to the low 20s – lower than any other president of the Fifth Republic (post-1958).

Before the jobless figures, Mr Hollande’s popularity was beginning to pick itself up from the floor. One opinion poll last weekend showed a modest 2 per cent rise in his approval rating.

The government is bracing itself, all the same, for a difficult 2014. Quite apart from the elections and the stubbornly bad jobess figures , Mr Hollande and his equally unpopular Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, will finally have to make tough decisions on state spending.

To hit the much-postponed eurozone target of a state budget deficit of only 3 per cent of GDP, France has to reduce the size of the state to 45.8 per cent of  GDP by 2017.This will require €50bn in still  unidentified cuts in three years in either the welfare state or the sprawling apparatus of government.

Although Mr Hollande has promised that there will be no significant new tax increases next year, several big hikes already programmed have yet to take effect, including a rise in VAT from next week.

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower