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France’s Hollande facing tough autumn as popularity falls

August 30, 2012
PARIS: His popularity sliding less than four months after being elected, Socialist President Francois Hollande is heading into a difficult autumn that will test public patience over France’s flagging economy.

With divisions also starting to show in his inexperienced government, analysts say Hollande is looking vulnerable as he prepares to push through a deficit-cutting budget and face down union anger over mounting job losses.

An IPSOS poll this week showed Hollande’s approval rating down 11 points in August to 44 percent, the lowest figure since he defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in May’s presidential vote.

Sarkozy had a 61 percent approval rating in the August after his 2007 election.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius admitted yesterday that disappointment with Hollande – who swept to power on vows of reviving France’s stagnant economy – had started to set in.

“We have found ourselves in a very difficult economic and social situation. We have begun making changes but it takes time, so there can be some disappointment,” Fabius told France Inter radio.

“We have to explain what we are doing, clearly plot out the perspectives, carry out education and action at the same time,” he said.

Analysts admit Hollande has been saddled with difficult circumstances.

Hit by the eurozone debt crisis, France’s economy barely avoided entering a recession in the second quarter. Unemployment continues to rise, with the number of jobseekers seeing its sharpest monthly increase in three years in July, hitting 2.99 million people.

But experts said the government had to take some of the blame for the falling poll numbers.

“Faced with public worries and expectations, the government has not done enough to give the impression it is tackling the situation head-on and has a strong and clear strategy to meet the crisis,” said IPSOS director Brice Teinturier.

The drop in popularity is bound to make things difficult for Hollande as he prepares a 2013 budget that must save more than 30 billion euros (US$38 billion) to meet EU deficit reduction rules.

The end of France’s traditional August holiday will also see the start of a fraught season of job cuts at major companies including carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, whose announcement last month it was slashing 8,000 jobs shocked the country.

Unions have warned they will not take the cuts lying down and France could be set for a return to labour unrest.

The head of the powerful CGT union, Bernard Thibault, told AFP yesterday that the union was calling for demonstrations on October 9 “in defence of industrial jobs”.

Protesters are also set to take to the streets in opposition to France’s adoption of the EU’s fiscal pact, which sets tough deficit guidelines and is up for debate in parliament.

Far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon has called on supporters to rally in Paris on September 30 to demand a referendum on the pact.

Keen to keep the public on side, Hollande’s government has offered measures including a tax cut to temporarily reduce the price of petrol by up to six euro cents and an increase in the ceiling on tax-free savings accounts.

The government also on yesterday announced 2.3 billion euros in subsidies to create 150,000 jobs for disadvantaged youth by the end of 2014.

But analysts said government efforts are also being weakened by sniping between ministers in the first Socialist cabinet in a decade.

Rows over France’s nuclear policy, the dismantling of Roma encampments and advertising on public television have all seen ministers publicly questioning each other.

“The recent differences between ministers have probably also damaged the government’s image,” Teinturier said.

Fabius suggested yesterday that some ministers needed to learn to keep their mouths shut.

“We are not obliged to talk about everything, all the time and in every way,” he said.

Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said Wednesday that Hollande will address the public in a national television apperance in the first half of September.



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