François Hollande, deeply unpopular and shaken by another scandal, has dropped a broad hint that he is resigned to being a one-term President.
“If unemployment does not fall before [the next election in] 2017, I have no reason to run and no chance of being elected,” President Hollande said.
His comments came two weeks after he was forced to dump his Prime Minister because of calamitous local election results and one week after his approval ratings fell to a new all-time low for a French president of 18 per cent.
Facing a growing revolt in his own Socialist party against plans for a €50bn cut in public spending over three years, Mr Hollande has been further weakened by allegations of misconduct by one of his closest friends and most senior aides.
Aquilino Morelle, political adviser in the Elysée Palace, was forced to resign on Friday after it was revealed that he had once worked for a Danish pharmaceutical company while employed by the French state watchdog on health policy.
Although not illegal in itself, Mr Morelle’s potential conflict of interest breached Mr Hollande’s pledge that he and his staff would be “irreproachable”.
Mr Hollande’s admission that he may not run again, three years before the next election, is unprecedented. No president of the Fifth Republic (post-1958) has failed to run for a second term, save Georges Pompidou who died in office in 1974. Three – Charles de Gaulle, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac – have run again and won. Two, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Nicolas Sarkozy have run and lost.
During his successful campaign to unseat Mr Sarkozy in 2012, Mr Hollande promised, among other things, to “reverse the rising tide” of unemployment by the end of last year. He has failed to do so.
The French jobless figure remains stuck at around 10 per cent. The French state economic forecasting agency predicted last week that there would be no significant reduction in unemployment this year despite a predicted growth rate of 1.5 per cent.
French political commentators were divided yesterday in their interpretation of Mr Hollande’s remarks. Some suggested that he was deliberately creating a new target – and a new hostage to fortune. If the unemployment rate does fall by the end of 2016, President Hollande would be able to campaign the following year on the belated delivery of his original promise.
Other commentators suggested that Mr Hollande was simply recognising a political reality. If the jobless rate remains unchanged by 2017, there is no prospect of Mr Hollande – or any other left-wing candidate – winning that year’s presidential election.
In January, Mr Hollande tacitly admitted that his first 20 months in office had been a failure and announced a shift towards a more business-oriented, tax-cutting rather than tax-raising economic policy. This new approach, detested by many on the left of the Socialist party, has been confirmed and expanded by the new reform-minded Prime Minister, Manuel Valls.
Mr Valls has already indicated that there will be tax cuts for the low-paid and for employers, funded by freezing public-sector salaries and pension and social payments.
The independent state economic forecaster said last week that this was the correct way to resurrect the French economy. The forecaster warned, however, that it would be at least one year and maybe two before the new approach began to deliver a significant reduction in unemployment.
Mr Hollande appears to have staked his political future on this forecast proving to be correct.Reuse content