Monday, 22 February 2016

FRANCE: Hollande & Le Pen's surge

Francois Hollande is already viewed as the most unsuccessful president in recent French history. Hollande's ratings have dropped in February 6 points. In January, Hollande enjoyed 24% approval rating, that lasted only a month. A new poll by the barometer IFOP reveals that 81% percent of the population are dissatisfied with the president. His hapless leadership has enabled the rise of Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National. He plans to run again in 2017, but does he stand a chance?

He still has 12 months left to shed his reputation as the most hapless president of the Fifth Republic. But achieving that has become a major effort--a virtually impossible mission. All the issues he failed to address in previous years have now become obstacles. He believed for too long that the country, reforms and the economic recovery would essentially happen automatically. But he was wrong.

About 4 million Frenchmen are now out of work. The economy is reeling instead of growing, as it alternates between shrinking and stagnating; and there is growing resentment among workers. And Hollande, who set out to please everyone, is now incurring the wrath of all.

In addition to struggling against economic troubles and unemployment, he also needs to convince the French that Marine Le Pen and her far-right party, Front National (FN), are not an alternative.The Front National has finally become a major political force in recent years, during Hollande's term in office. One in three Frenchmen now say they could imagine voting for Marine Le Pen in 2017. If the presidential were held tomorrow, she could be ahead of the incumbent in a runoff vote.

Is Hollande hapless case? he can be portrayed as a statemen in a documentary filmed in his palace, and he can order the French army to bomb Islamic State in Syria. But even his foreign policy, which he seems much more decisive than on domestic issues, has done nothing to improve his poor approval ratings. He seems that no matter what he does, Hollande remains deeply unpopular with the French. Some 81% percent are dissatisfied with his performance as president. And for once commentators on both the left and the right agree: There is no love lost between Francois Hollande and the French.

What does this president have left on his agenda? Does he intend to achieve a major success in his remaining year in office and reform his country? No one honestly believes that anymore. At the moment, it seems as if he had only one overriding goal: to run for re-election in 2017--despite everything.

Hollande has the very upright posture of short men, a stiffness and a forced dignity that many find off-putting. In the past, when he served as a member of parliament for his party, he was popular among the French for his jokes and his quick-wittedness. Today when he tries to interact with the French people, he feels more like a director of the school of administration he attended than the man so many voted for to run their country. The odd thing about Hollande is that he has stressed from the very beginning that his task as president is to ''unite and comfort''. But the only other president before him to arouse so much anger in the country was his predecessor: Nicolas Sarkozy.

Whereas Sarkozy annoyed the French with his hyperactivity, Hollande vexes then with his apathy and trepidation. Those who work with Hollande all say that he is very good listener. He is well-versed on the issues, even complicated ones, but add that the president is very ''indecisive'' when it comes time to make decisions. This is how Pascal Lamy, the former head of the World Trade Organization and a friend of Hollande explains his way of thinking; ''Francois has two brains, one that recognizes the situation as it is, and another one that sets policy''.

Socialist Hollande has deeply disappointed the French--both those on the left and the pragmatists in the center--and the remaining year of his presidency will do nothing to change that. The beneficiaries of all this frustration are Marine Le Pen and her far-right party, the Front National. Many French are sick of constantly alternating conservative and socialist governments, because no matter who is in charge, their lives remain the same. the established parties seem to be losing more and more credibility each year. And the worse things get for Hollande, the better things will be for Marine Le Pen.

Hollande can also consider it his achievement that Marine Le Pen has managed to turn the Front National from a protest party into a real political force. Instead of opposing Marine Le Pen's nationalism, he has committed the policies of his predecessor, Sarkozy, a policy of empty promises and hollow words.

When Marine Le Pen's party won elections for the European Parliament in 2014, Hollande, looking serious, said on the evening of the election: '' The result does not correspond to Frances' role in Europe''. But he cannot change the reality with important sounding pronouncements. That was much true in 2015, when Marine Le Pen's party won two more seats in the French Senate. The Front National now has twice as many seats in the European Parliament as Hollande's Socialist Party.

Marine Le Pen claims to be fighting against ''those at the stop''. The approach is successful because the Paris elite is indeed aloof. Hollande, the prototype of this special caste, grew up in wealthy Neuilly and graduated from three of the so called ''Grand Schools''.  Him and some of his ministers and state secretaries were in the same class at France's renowned: ''Ecole Nationale d'administration'' or ''Ena''.

The president has now officially declared war on Marine Le Pen and dubbed her his most important opponent for the presidential election. This would never have happened in the past. Up until now, the established parties preferred to simply ignore the Front National. But that is no longer an option. The question is whether this will not in fact increase Marine Le Pen's popularity even further.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Agence France Presse photo of: French President Francois Hollande at Brussels summit 2015-getty image