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Opinion

Opinion: Uncertain Hollande finally stands firm

What will be the legacy of Francois Hollande's time in office? The answer: nothing, so far. But the French President could go down in history if he holds his position on labor market reform, says DW's Max Hofmann.

French President Francois Hollande has always linked his political fate to the unemployment rate in France. The numbers of unemployed in the country have been high for a long time. According to most serious economists, the way to fix it is to reform the very old-fashioned French labor market. Hollande, known for his procrastination, is now trying to get this done by force. He doesn't have the support of the unions, the population at large or even his own party. But still, he's doing the right thing.

A crescendo to finish

As a socialist, the French president needs to act in the best interests of the country, not according to the desires of various interest groups. Being a socialist these days doesn't mean adhering to the arguments of various communist-leaning unions, or protecting the workers against the 'evil' companies. Especially, because nowadays unions represent only eight percent of French taxpayers, and are therefore little more than interest groups. Aside from some archaic chants and burning car tires at street demonstrations, they are not really putting forward any realistic or workable options.

Hofmann Maximilian Kommentarbild App

DW's Max Hofmann

The president needs to set up a situation where the French economy can start growing again. He has to give the 3.5 million unemployed in France a chance at a future. To do that he has to soften the country's protection against dismissal laws. Only then will businesses have the courage to start taking on new employees again. Although the problem is obvious, French presidents have failed at this hurdle regularly – and Hollande has too. His presidency has lacked spirit in many ways, but this would be a chance to show his mettle and to sign off from his time as president with something truly meaningful.

Hollande's last chance

And it looks like Hollande could just manage it. Somewhere he seems to have found reserves of courage and determination to get these reforms through – without the support of parliament or even his own party. The approach seems undemocratic and not very social-minded. But, if you consider the permanent blocks being put in place by the unions and the left edge of the French Socialist Party, who refuse to search for a compromise on the issue at all, this really is Hollande's only option.

Whether it's the panic of getting something done in his final days as president, or a desperate hope to be re-elected in 2017, Hollande seems determined to grab this opportunity. By doing so, he could do the right thing as well as leave a lasting political legacy: just like German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder did 13 years ago with the so-called "Agenda 2010," which reformed the German welfare system and labor relations.

Schröder was a social democrat, and right now he is one of the French president's most important role models. It might be hard to believe, but it seems that in the final days of his presidency, Francois Hollande has finally found an important project to sink his teeth into.

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