By Sophie des Beauvais
On Thursday, September 18, 2014, French President Francois Hollande posited a forceful position concerning his stance on international affairs, even as his failures on the domestic stage continued to mount. After a 20-minute general policy speech, he answered questions posed by mountains of journalists over the course of two hours, who expected him to provide at least some answers concerning the worst term he has had in office.
The last few weeks have severely hurt Holland’s popularity and credibility with the French electorate, putting a particular pressure on him to perform well in this press conference. He tried to exude confidence, confirming that he would continue to govern until the end of his term and stating that he only cared about the greater good of the French people. This stance may have seemed reassuring but in fact, it painted a picture of Hollande denying reality. He cannot go back now to “business as usual,” given the events that transpired two and a half years after his election.
This press conference was particularly brutal for Hollande. Journalists did not hesitate to provoke, asking him if he had hurt his presidential image during the speech he gave under the rain at the Ile de Sein several weeks earlier. Hollande, who at one point used to assert the importance of rebuilding the image of the French President that his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy supposedly “eroded,” responded to this query by saying that that it would have been inappropriate to request an umbrella when the French people had to make due without one. He further explained that he preferred to be “in communion” with the French people, whom also had to get wet without an umbrella, bringing back his image of “Mr Normal.”
One journalist probes Hollande about his personal life, asking if his ex-girlfriend’s book discredited him or cast doubt about his ability to govern. Hollande refused to answer the question, stating he had already addressed this issue in an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur. He then explained that respecting the office of the president is crucial and questions about a president’s personal life have always been and continue to be unwelcome in French politics.
A few weeks before the press conference, France was rocked by a governing crisis as Prime Minister Manual Vall’s five-month working government unexpectedly resigned after ministers started to openly criticize their President. Hollande again had to demonstrate his political prowess, dodging questions about his personal life while desperately trying to convince the French people that he had done all he could to mitigate the effects of a situation beyond his control.
Hollande has also shown resilience because he knows that the unions, who are the only groups to not defy him, are not likely at this time to initiate and strike. He has also made public his intention to withdraw the income tax for the lowest tax bracket—although only 53 percent of French residents are currently subject to this tax. By doing so, he is attempting to rally behind the lower class, who are the ones most likely to lead violent protests against him.
In spite of his low popularity, Hollande appears surprisingly politically safe and sound. Nonetheless, this press conference should not be viewed as his redemption. The issues he faces on both personal and national fronts will continue to haunt his presidency in the intervening weeks and months.
Sophie des Beauvais is an Editorial Assistant at World Policy Journal
[Photo courtesy of Laurencekt]