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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker