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.

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
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
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

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil