From Mr Normal to chef-de-guerre: How President Hollande found his appetite for leadership

After an uncertain start, intervention in Mali has bucked the President's approval ratings

Share
Related Topics

They used to call him “Flanby”.

It is a nickname François Hollande has always despised, likening him to the soft and creamy dessert which has since become a byword in France for weakness or incompetence.

In the months that followed his election victory in May the nickname – and its slightly less derisive counterpart, Mr Normal - were justified. Although the French President’s no-nonsense campaign and rhetoric of change had plenty of bark, there was little bite when it came to key policies. He was even forced to retreat with his tail between his legs after his proposal to slap a 75 per cent tax on the rich was slapped down as unconstitutional by the highest court in France.

Then there were other gaffes which left him less than impressive in the public eye. Last November the chef d’état was mocked on an international scale for mistakenly signing a congratulatory letter to President Obama “Friendly, François Hollande.” Hot on the heels of this faux pas came the revelation that Gérard Depardieu, one of the most well paid actors in France, had balked at the government’s new tax proposals and waddled off to Belgium, before threatening to send back his passport.

Perhaps the worst hammer blow to Hollande’s popularity came when he was forced into a humiliating retreat from his bid to nationalize two key furnaces in France’s ailing steel industry. Alternatively, it might have been the moment his own Labour Minister fumed that “France is totally broke,” completing undermining the President’s “tax and spend” policy.

Or could it actually have been last December, when almost a million people railed against his new gay marriage bill in the streets of Paris?  There are almost too many possibilities to choose from.

Yet out of this omnishambles of gaffes, u-turns and celebrity tantrums emerged a change of fortune that no one could have predicted. On January 11th, Hollande suddenly dispatched a fleet of attack helicopters and fighter jets to bombard Islamist rebels marching on Bamako in Northern Mali. Since then France’s progress has been steady with the cities of Gao, Timbuktu - and now Kidal - falling into the hands of its troops earlier this month.

When the President visited Timbuktu six days after it was liberated he received an extremely warm welcome. They greeted him with jubilant cries of “Long live France! Long live Francois Hollande!” One banner even called Hollande a saviour – hardly a phrase likely to be attributed in France to the ailing President during those long winter months where he floundered on economic policy.

There were failures also, notably a botched rescue mission in Somalia where two French soldiers lost their lives and the hostage was reportedly killed by his captors. But military action is a chaotic, unpredictable affair and Hollande’s unflinching engagement with it is a far cry from the hesitant statesmen who, only weeks ago, was desperately battling dissent in his own party.

It has been a remarkable transformation for the President, who otherwise has no experience of foreign policy. The spineless, hesitant Mr Normal of French politics has emerged from the winter months as a confident and decisive statesman.

Naturally, there is no question that his initial success in Mali is only the beginning of a lengthy, costly war for France. But he has made no attempts to conceal this and has frequently insisted that military involvement will last “as long as necessary”. There may be hard truths for the President to swallow in the coming months but his bold action in Mali suggests he has finally regained his appetite.

This is undoubtedly reflected in his once-ailing popularity, which had been at an all time low before the President’s Mali Moment. Now, one BVA poll shows that 75 per cent of the French support Hollande’s action in Mali which, according to the Washington Post, makes it a more popular policy than his gay marriage proposals.

Elsewhere, new statistics from a Métro-LCI poll this week also show that the President’s favour is on a slow but encouraging ascent. 42 per cent agree that he is capable of making difficult decisions, an increase of 6 per cent since last October.

Though another poll shows the President’s overall popularity is still unremarkable at 40 per cent, it has crept up by four points since December.  No one can refute that, as ratings for a head of state go, they are less than ideal -  but it is too early to dismiss Hollande altogether on the back of these figures.

On the contrary they suggest Hollande has begun to win back favour with the Métropole and this fortune may well spread to the international community, who have already smiled on him for his action in Mali. Granted, he has stumbled in his first steps as President but France has now found in him an unlikely military leader, committed to tackling extremism both at home and abroad (France is still on red alert in anticipation of a terrorist attack) with an almost alarming rate of efficiency. Even his own cabinet is struggling to keep up with this new streak of swift decision making.

For now, one can only hope that this new incarnation of Hollande endures, and that he doesn’t devolve back into a spongy French pudding while his country, politically as well as economically, is at its most fragile.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: will this be the election result? And other Questions To Which The Answer Is No

John Rentoul
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn