Paris attacks: Francois Hollande sees his popularity ratings double in wake of strong French response to Charlie Hebdo killings

President says the country and his own presidency had emerged stronger from the recent terrorism 'ordeal', and that the attacks had reinforced the country's 'republican values'

John Lichfield
Monday 19 January 2015 18:57
Muslims protesting against ‘Charlie Hebdo’ in Grozny
Muslims protesting against ‘Charlie Hebdo’ in Grozny

President François Hollande spoke today of relaunching his presidency after a poll suggested his popularity had more than doubled since the terrorist attacks in France.

The 21-point increase – from a catastrophic 19 per cent last month to a more respectable 40 per cent – was the largest one-month boost ever recorded for a French political leader, and may have no precedent in any democratic nation.

In comments to Le Monde, Mr Hollande said he thought the country and his own presidency had emerged stronger from the recent terrorism “ordeal”, and that the attacks had reinforced the country’s “republican values”.

“The country has changed the way it regards my presidency,” he said. “France has been made stronger by this tragedy. My own belief and pride in the values of our republic have been reinforced.”

But Mr Hollande acknowledged that the new more purposeful, united and defiant mood of France – demonstrated by the four million people who turned out on “Republican marches” nine days ago – could be fragile. Much would depend, he said, on a series of decisions to be made this week on strengthening security.

New anti-terrorism measures will be announced after a weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday. The following day, the Education Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, is expected to reveal a series of guidelines to reinforce patriotism, the teaching of respect for all religions and France’s traditions of free speech and “secularity”.

Ideas under discussion are said to include the regular singing by all pupils of the national anthem, La Marseillaise, and more classes on civic and democratic ideals. There might also be new classes on respect for, and understanding of, religions – something the fiercely secular French education system has traditionally resisted.

Many Muslim pupils – by no means all – refused to respect a nationwide two minutes’ silence in schools following the Charlie Hebdo killings two weeks ago. Teachers have reported that some teenagers from Muslim families have taken the side of the killers.

Mr Hollande, who is widely considered to have responded faultlessly to the attacks, was marooned at a calamitous 19 per cent approval rating in the last Ifop-Fiducial poll in December. He catapulted to 40 per cent in the survey published today, based on the opinions of over 1,000 people questioned on Saturday.

His Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, also rose by 17 points to 61 per cent. “This is an extremely rare event in the history of opinion polls everywhere,” a polling expert told reporters. “The only comparable case in France was the 19 points gained by President François Mitterrand over three months during the [first] Iraq war in 1991.”

In previous polls, over 80 per cent of French people had said that they approved of Mr Hollande’s response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre this month and the three days of terrorist mayhem in Paris which killed 17 people. He was judged to have struck the right balance of dignity, firmness and refusal to point the finger of blame at Islam or France’s Muslim population.

The Ifop (the French Institute of Public Opinion) boss, Frédéric Dabi, said people had started to consider Mr Hollande a worthy president. “They are no longer looking at him in the same way,” Mr Dabi said, adding that economic issues would ultimately decide Mr Holande’s political fate.

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