France’s leader was elected on the promise that the rich would pay—now everybody doesby Christine Ockrent / December 12, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
François Hollande is the least popular French President in history, according to polls. “Another couple of weeks, and we’ll be able to call [our supporters] by their first names!” a presidential advisor said bitterly the other day, summing up the mood at the Elysée. The President had just been booed on Remembrance Day. The Prime Minister was ridiculed in parliament by members of his own Socialist party. Protestors in Brittany—who have taken to wearing red caps like their ancestors resisting the King’s taxes—tore apart new toll gates on highways. Farmers circled Paris with tractors, slowing down access for almost a day. Truck drivers, poultry breeders, teachers, midwives, craftsmen, even riding instructors and their ponies have taken to the streets to yell at tax rises.
Across the eurozone, there are signs that economic conditions are improving—and yet in France there are daily demonstrations and business failures. Representing only 8 per cent of the workforce, trade unions are unable to channel this anger. Violent protests burst out and public outrage is stoked by the bonuses granted to CEOs. “Ras le bol! Enough is enough!” France is fuming with rage—and the party that is profiting from the situation is the far-right Front National.
A year and a half into his mandate, Hollande has run out of steam. Despite the bravura of his foreign policy—Mali, Iran, if not Syria—the French now doubt his leadership abilities and the competence of his government. The rumour is that cabinet members are already looking for other jobs. Politicians and pundits compare scenarios: will the President change his Prime Minister? Will he call elections and risk losing his majority to the conservatives? Should he resign, as some suggest, even though, short of his committing murder, French institutions protect the President for the duration of his five-year mandate? “None of that will happen,” sighs the Elysée advisor. “Don’t underestimate his c…