Hollande is the least popular President in recent memory. After the Roma debacle, it's no surprise

The deportation of a Roma schoolgirl showed 'Flanby' at his weakest

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The Independent Online

It’s official: François Hollande, the hapless French leader who has weathered a string of disasters since his election last May, is the least popular President in recent memory.

Monsieur Hollande now holds the dubious accolade of a 26 per cent approval rating - in which 97 per cent of right wingers responded negatively - thanks to a new poll from French firm BVA. It is the lowest result in the approval rating system’s 32-year-old history.

But in light of the President’s most recent blunder, an immigration row which has  left enemies comparing him to an idiotic King Solomon, it is hardly surprising - not least of all because Hollande was bested on this occasion by a 15-year old Roma girl.

The furore began in early October, when teenager Leonarda climbed onto her school bus in the sleepy Doubs region of eastern France, anticipating a day like any other. Instead the Kosovo-born Roma, who had fled to France with her family, found herself being dragged out of the bus by immigration police as stunned classmates looked on.

Within hours she was on a plane back to Kosovo with the rest of her family in tow - they had all been living illegally in France, which lists around 20,000 Romas among its population, for five years.

The spectacle was supposed to be part of a crackdown on illegal immigrants - the government’s desperate attempt to look tough on an issue driving scores of French voters to the extreme right. 

Instead it dealt a devastating blow to the government's credibility, rendering it divided and incompetent in the eyes of voters.

The notion that a young girl, French or otherwise, could be seized from a bus on the way to a school trip sent shockwaves across the nation. France’s Socialist Party-led government appeared to have crossed a rubicon by allowing police to violate the safe haven of schools, many of which bear the Revolutionary motto “Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood” above their gates. Within days of the teenager’s story hitting the news, students were swarming around the capital, protesting in the street and blocking schools in a bid to make the government overturn the decision.

Yet outside universities and the corridors of power, few seemed to agree - while the President’s political enemies circled around the Assemblé Nationale, a poll emerged showing nearly 80 per cent of the French population were unconcerned by Leonarda’s deportation. Other reports suggested the teenager was less than enamoured with the French school system anyway - she had played truant for over twenty days that year.

By either reversing the deportation or sticking by it, Hollande was certain to disappoint someone; somehow he managed to disappoint everyone: Leonarda is welcome to resume her studies in France, he said, but she must return alone.

It was supposed to be a cunning political manoeuvre, satisfying the demands of the leftist wing of his party as well as students on the streets. But it has only served to paint a farcical picture of Hollande’s government, where infighting and indecisiveness is now the norm. What should have been hailed as a judgement of Solomon on Hollande’s part left him humiliated after Leonarda, who was watching the address in Kosovo on a journalist's phone, immediately threw the offer back in his face.

This “Hollandaise compromise” - as his limp attempt to please everyone has since been dubbed - has also left the goal posts wide open for the emerging National Front, who now claim that Roma illegals will be their key issue in the upcoming municipal elections.

But what is perhaps most deplorable about this episode is not the ammunition it has handed to Marine Le Pen and her party, it is confirmation of just how apathetic Hollande must feel towards his own policies, another example of the President abandoning ship at the first sign of troubled waters.