French President François Hollande rebuffs media on alleged affair with Julie Gayet: 'These are painful moments, but private matters should be dealt with privately'

This being France, the President escaped close inspection of his private life at a long-awaited press conference. Instead, he talked about his plan to slash state spending. John Lichfield reports from the Elysee Palace

Paris

Two François Hollandes appeared before the world’s press today. One of them, the statesman and would-be saviour of France, refused to comment on the nocturnal escapades of the private man.

He was allowed to get away with it, more or less, by the 600 journalists packed into the glittering Chambre de Fêtes of the Elysee Palace. It is difficult to imagine the leader of any other democratic country escaping so lightly.

President Hollande admitted to suffering “pain” in his private life, but he refused to  comment on reports that he is having an affair with a 41-year-old actress, Julie Gayet. He declined to say whether his official companion Valérie Trierweiler should still be considered France’s First Lady. He said that a statement would be made before 11 February when the French first couple are expected to visit the Obamas at the White House.

“Everyone in his private life can go through ordeals,” President Hollande said. “That is what is happening to us.

“These are painful moments. But I have a principle that private matters are dealt with in private. This is neither the place nor the time to do so.”

Asked about the health of Ms Trierweiler, 49, who is in hospital recovering from a “severe case of the blues”, Mr Hollande said curtly: “She is resting. I have nothing else to say.”

So much for the private man. The other Hollande – the Socialist statesman and would-be saviour of France – was in more loquacious form. He spent most of a two-and-a-half hour press conference explaining a sharp lurch in his economic policy towards a more market-driven, supply-side approach.

Over the next three years, a whole €30bn section of the French welfare state – family policy – will be cut or funded in a different way, he said. This would substantially ease the payroll taxes, or social charges, which weigh heavily on the cost of labour in France.

Abuses and excesses in the welfare state would be attacked. In return, employers must commit to creating tens of thousands of new jobs.

There would be a drive to cut the sprawling French state apparatus, examining all policies anew and saving an extra €50bn (on top of €15bn in savings this year). Entire areas of local government could be merged or abolished.

Here, too, Mr Hollande played the tight-rope walker. He said that these proposals were not a “U-turn” or a new departure, just an “acceleration” or “deepening” of what he has done in the last 20 months. Two minutes later he boasted that his proposed “responsibility pact” was the “most radical social compromise demanded of the French people for many decades”.

François Hollande with partner Valérie Trierweiler; Julie Gayet François Hollande with partner Valérie Trierweiler; Julie Gayet

The second statement is nearer the truth. Although Mr Hollande was light on detail, the thrust of his proposals is revolutionary in French terms. He said that by cutting the state, he wanted to create a “virtuous circle” of growth and confidence.

Mr Hollande did take a couple of other questions on “l’affaire Gayet” without confirming or denying that the man pictured in a motorcycle helmet leaving her flat on 31 December was indeed him. He would not sue Closer magazine for publishing the images, he said, though his “indignation was total” at the breach of his right to privacy.

Yes, he agreed the legal status of the French First Lady – at present she has none – should be made clear. Mr Hollande promised “transparency” on the subject

Mr Hollande was elected in May 2012 as Mr Normal; the safe-pair-of-hands; the man who would not scare the horses; the anti-Sarko; the antidote to President Moi. He found himself fending off questions about nocturnal motorcycle escapades and a distraught, unmarried partner. One journalist complained that potentially hostile questioners were being by-passed.

Can Mr Hollande’s presidency recover? His popularity had already fallen to depths not previously plumbed by presidents of the Fifth Republic. An opinion poll – taken in the two days after Closer magazine revealed Mr Hollande’s affair – showed a slight upturn in the number of French people who approve of the President.

According to the Ipsos poll for Le Point magazine, Mr Hollande is now liked by 24 per cent of voters, compared to 23 per cent in December. At that rate another 26 escapades with actresses would put Mr Hollande back in the electoral black.

Hollande says he will not sue 'Closer' magazine (AP) Hollande says he will not sue 'Closer' magazine (AP)
According to one interpretation of Mr Hollande’s hand-brake turn on economic policy, he knows that he has already blown his chances of re-election in 2017. He is engaged in a kamikaze reform policy, like Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Germany a decade ago.

Mr Hollande has always been a social democrat. His party remains largely unreconstructed. He waved red flags (attacking Big Finance and promising a 75 per cent tax on the super-rich) in order to win election. In power, he has, until now, followed a shuffling course, neither old fashioned statist tax-and-spender nor full-blooded reformer.

To succeed even in kamikaze reforms Mr Hollande will need respect and authority. Both have been diminished by the image of a furtive president leaving his girlfriend’s flat in a motorcycle helmet.

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
Environment
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Technology Teacher - Food & Textiles

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Food Tech/Textiles Teacher We ...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Humanities Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities, Religious Education ...

Physics Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term from S...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone