The lost year of Francois Hollande | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 15.05.2013
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The lost year of Francois Hollande

Just one year into his first term in office, French President Francois Hollande has lost the trust of his people. What did he do wrong to dissappoint his voters like no other French leader before him?

He doesn't want to celebrate. The first anniversary of his election victory finds French President Francois Hollande not well in terms of public support. In May 2012, the French electorate had voted for change. Expectations were high. But one year on, with record unemployment figures, many people are upset about promises not kept.

"Hollande needed the votes of the left for his victory and had announced a leftist policy," complains 40-year old Alain. But in fact, the government is doing the opposite right now, he attests. "Many draft bills are not in the interests of workers."

Helpless administrator

A man walks past official campaign posters for Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande (L) and French President and UMP political party candidate Nicolas Sarkozy (R) which are displayed on electoral panels in Tulle, May 5, 2012. France goes to the polls on Sunday for the second round of their presidential election. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Hollande promised a strong and democratic France during his 2012 election campaign

Hollande stood for a more social society, a public that would fight against the econoimc crisis and put an end to what was often perceived as the embarrassing presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. Today, he seems to many to be stuck in paralysis, trying to combine calls for a more just society with the reform pressures from Brussels, achieving neither.

His spotless image has been supplanted by the picture of a helpless administrator who has failed to prevent his tax fraudster minister Jerome Cahuzac from dragging the entire government down with him. "Francois Hollande had promised us to be a normal president. But no, he's not normal, he is too far away from us, says Colette who for 15 years has been a member of Hollande's Socialist party and would love to have the president over for supper once to remind him of the actual challenges of his term.

Missing what  counts

"We've discussed long about gay marriage," she says. "But what about the rest?" For her, there are a lot more important things; for instance, the re-industrialization of the country. "This we will only achieve with a bit of economic patriotism in Europe. There are too many issues where I really don't see anything coming from this government."

Demonstrators take part in a march calling for a sixth republic to be established with a new constitution in Paris, May 5, 2013. The far-leftist party Front de Gauche called for a demonstration on Sunday against austerity and for a sixth republic, which includes diminishing the power of the president and increasing the parliament's authority, on the eve of the first anniversary of the election of French President Francois Hollande. REUTERS/Charles Platiau (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS)

Thousands of protesters think the president has not done a good job

The number of promises that Hollande is accused of not having kept is indeed high. The drama about metal workers in the north of the country, who, after long negotiations, saw their jobs axed in the end touched people across the country. The wealth tax of 75 percent got vetoed by the constitutional court and that way made a laughing stock of the government in the eye of the people.

And then there was the promise to turn around growing unemployment by the end of 2013. Few believe that the president will be able to live up to that promise either. Many had hoped that Paris would be able to say 'no' to austerity measures demanded by Germany.

"We know that Paris and Berlin are of different minds. But that doesn't stop us from moving ahead and finding French solutions," Europe Minister Thierry Repentin said in a recent radio interview. He pointed to the financial transactions tax as an example, saying that "not Madame Merkel fought for it, not Sarkozy - but it was Francois Hollande. We have to stop having this idea that it's Germany that decides everything."

Perception counts, not reality

French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L-R) arrive for a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)

Hollande said Germany must not decide for all of Europe

But France is stuck in pessimism. On a double broadsheet page, the paper Le Monde lists in tables and statistics how bad the country's state of affairs really is. Politicial scientist Olivier Rouquan believes it's up to the president to act now. All energy has to go into convincing people, he says.

"I think it was Jacques Chirac who said that what counts in politics is not reality but the perception of it by the people," Rouquan says. "The president has to work on his communication. He has to get into a more passionate dialogue with his country."

But one year after Hollande took office, the connection between him and his voters is cut. Some 75 percent of the French view their president's policies as negative. That's a record that even Nicolas Sarkozy could not even manage. And already, Sarkozy's drive is almost being celebrated as the opposite of Hollande's hesitation.

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