Corruption in government, atrocious poll ratings, are we nearing the end for Mr Normal?

President Hollande has just been through a catastrophic few weeks

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The Independent Online

It has been a catastrophic few weeks for French politics and François Hollande is, to put it lightly, un peu en colère.

Not only has the nation been rocked by one of the worst fiscal scandals in years, but the President’s approval ratings have reached an all-time low of 27 per cent. 

Even foreign policy suffered a blow after it emerged that the camel Hollande received as a gift for liberating Mali had been cooked and eaten.

The same could be said of Hollande’s manifesto - now he must all but abandon his key policies in favour of a war on corruption in politics.

But if the President, who is now less popular than National Front leader Marine LePen, believes that a bid to stamp out tax dodging in government will win him back public favour, it seems he is mistaken.

Countless French voters have taken to social networking sites to accuse Hollande of using his reforms as a smoke screen, to divert attention from an ailing economy, surging unemployment and the ever-present national debt.

If today’s poll ratings are anything to go by, the man who billed himself as “Mr Normal” would be trounced in an election by ex-rival Nicolas Sarkozy, who is enjoying a political renaissance of sorts in France with many calling for him to run again for office.

In-house job

The trouble all began with a fib from Hollande’s Budget Minister Jerôme Cahuzac, which quickly spiralled into an enormous web of lies in a saga echoing that of disgraced Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne.

After French website Mediapart alleged that Cahuzac was hiding over 600,000 Euros from authorities in a secret Swiss bank account, he denied the allegations again and again.

The former plastic surgeon even denied them face-to-face with the President himself, under the eyes of his colleagues in the National Assembly.

But the facade came crashing down in March as Cahuzac admitted on his personal blog that yes, he had held a secret bank account in Switzerland and that, yes, he had lied to the public, the President and to his colleagues.

In other words the man in Hollande’s government charged with fighting tax evasion was now a known tax fraudster.  He is currently under investigation and could face up to five years in prison.

But what created the biggest stir among the French, from the left and from the right, was the demand for ministers to publish all their financial assets in a last gasp bid to restore the public’s trust. 

They did so on April 15, ironically proving a long held suspicion that a surprisingly high number of ministers are staggeringly wealthy.

Far from placating the French people, this “shock of moralization” has only further enraged voters, who accuse Hollande of ignoring the country’s most pressing issues.

Blind eye

“Cahuzac is a tremendous fool and he needs to be severely punished,” said one 22 year-old Parisian, “but first of all they need to deal with the employment crisis and the public debt. Hollande is wasting our time and money by pursuing these reforms when he should be facing up to much bigger and more urgent problems.”

Others raised eyebrows at the fact that Hollande – who once tried to introduce a swooping 75% tax on the rich – has a Foreign Minister in his cabinet with a Paris property worth 2.75 million Euros and two holiday homes elsewhere.

Even more embarrassing for Hollande is the suspicion that he may have turned a blind eye to Cahuzac's wrongdoing, leaving the President in an extremely difficult position - at best, he will be perceived as naive and incompetent, and at worst a potential accomplice to fraud. 

The outlook for France's 24th President is now bleaker than ever. He has all but lost the brief surge of public support gained in Mali while the Cahuzac affair has gravely wounded his government's credibility. Meanwhile the threat of a resurgent Nicolas Sarkozy - who vowed never to return to politics after the French ousted him from power eleven months ago - has transformed from a pipe dream into a palpable reality for the 2017 election. 

The approval polls speak for themselves; the French people are nearly at their wits end with their leader. If he doesn't address their concerns - this could be the beginning of the end for Mr Normal.