The French malady

An unpopular President lacks the courage and capital to combat deeply entrenched problems

Share

There are two types of political unpopularity, as President François Hollande is discovering. The first is the type endured when a political leader is taking “tough but necessary” decisions, especially mid-term. The pain is felt by the voters, who express their disapproval in polls, by-elections and the like. In a British context this might be termed the “Thatcher model”. Eventually the gains become apparent and popularity is revived. The second type is where a leader is simply incoherent, undertaking just enough reform to make themselves and their administration hated, but not sufficient to deliver much gain, or electoral dividend, by the time polling days arrives. One might term this the “Major model”.

Thus, the fact that he is the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic should not necessarily concern Mr Hollande unduly. He is a year in to a long (five-year) term of office and, were he pursuing the policies and reforms France so desperately needs, he would be assured that at least he was doing the right thing and that the nation, and his popularity, would benefit in due course, Thatcher-style.

The truth, of course, is that Mr Hollande is following the John Major model, trimming ineffectually at the edges of welfare and labour market reform, but time is running out for the floundering French economy. France’s economic problem is simply stated: it is uncompetitive and generates nowhere near enough jobs to provide its young people with a future. That is not new – the riots in the banlieues a decade ago attest to that. But the sluggish growth performance of the French economy is starting to erode the living standards of France’s spoiled middle classes (though not yet its farmers).

Mr Hollande, during his election campaign and after, soothed the voters with an essentially fraudulent manifesto: that taxing the rich and bashing the bankers was the answer to the malaise. It was never going to be, of course, and the real problems persist: a state that spends almost six in every 10 euros; dirigiste and chauvinistic policies from agriculture to cars that are protectionist (this is a country that regards yoghurt making as a “strategic” national interest); a sclerotic labour market; too-generous welfare payments; and an attachment to a way of life, a culture, a language and cuisine that critics describe as xenophobic. French is a beautiful language and the baguette a wonderful gift to mankind, but the obsession with resisting Anglo-Saxon conveniences, even as supermarket bread and McDonalds appeal to more and more customers, is symptomatic of a people less than at ease with itself.

So Mr Hollande follows Nicolas Sarkozy in falling victim to this malady; he reflects a national desire to restore France as a great economic power, but is unwilling to face down the vested interests that defeat any attempt to deliver the reforms upon which that power, and prosperity, depend. It may be that Mr Hollande will follow the example set by François Mitterrand in the 1980s. After a brief socialist experiment, crowned by the adoption of a 35-hour working week, Mr Mitterrand U-turned his way to fiscal conservatism, coupled with a “franc fort” that disciplined the economy and led to the single currency. Thus far, Mr Hollande does not seem to be made of the same stuff.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£15000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Barnardo's: Young Carers Wirral Intern

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work upon production of rec...

Barnardo's: Business Development Intern (West Midlands)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were killed after a gunman opened fire during a live broadcast in Virginia  

Because of Facebook and Twitter I still have Alison Parker's final chilling moments looping in my head

Nash Riggins
A Chinese investor holds prayer beads as he monitors stock prices at a brokerage house in Beijing  

We fear China's growing power. But it is morally reprehensible to celebrate the country's woes

Fokke Obbema
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future