by Ted Welch
Wed Oct 17th, 2012 at 03:35:03 AM EST
Recently I was discussing Hollande with an English friend who was somewhat critical of him, saying that he hadn't really had much experience: "What has he done?". The media have been attacking Hollande and his government for not having done anything:
They had become used to Sarkozy's mistaken (his view) hyperactive style.
I think the media's encouragement of emphasis on personality is unfortunate (as with Assange), most important is what group he belongs to and what they stand for. Sarkozy made what group he really represented all too clear the night of his election, with the party at Fouquets and his holiday on a billionaire's yacht (see below for contrast with Hollande - his bedroom in Tulle). Even a French President can't do much by himself and must represent the mainstream of his party and their policies.
front-paged by afew
Sarkozy acknowledged, 3 months before the election, that his hyperactive approach had been mistaken, and he should have been a bit more "distant and solemn":
Sarkozy: "La principale erreur a été de penser que j'étais encore ministre. Ministre, il faut de la réactivité, de l'instantanéité. Lorsqu'on devient président, à côté de cette réactivité, il faut aussi distance et solennité."
But he was still mistaken in suggesting that a minister should react immediately; ministers too ought to take a strategic view and avoid knee-jerk responses to problems, even if the media are demanding action.
However, if we do focus on individuals, Hollande is not "nul" as Sarkozy said:
It's true that Hollande hasn't any experience of government (except local) - but that's what happens when a party is out of power for some time; however he did run a major party for 11 years (see below).
Major qualifications for the job of president are intelligence and an ability to get on with a wide range of people.
Hollande is clearly a very bright guy (and won the debate with Sarkozy), you don't get into HEC and ENA unless you are very bright. Hollande was also a very young professeur at the prestigious Sciences-Po and a young member of the Cour des Comptes (ENA tudents who come in the top 15 of their year get to choose their first jobs and Cour des Comptes is one of the top choices):
"a quasi-judicial body of the French government charged with conducting financial and legislative audits of most public institutions and some private institutions, including the central Government, national public corporations, social security agencies (since 1950), and public services (since 1976). The Court is essentially a cross between a court of exchequer, comptroller general's office, and auditor general's office in common-law countries." Wikipedia
Pretty good training for running the country's finances.
"That same year, Jospin became the Prime Minister of France, and Hollande won the election for his successor as First Secretary of the French Socialist Party, a position he would hold for eleven years." Wikipedia
Now that alone is to do something (politics is a profession) and running a big Left-wing group like that, prone to factionalism and ideological differences is not easy:
Hollande has had experience at a high level:
"Because of the very strong position of the Socialist Party within the French Government during this period, Hollande's position led some to refer to him the 'Vice Prime Minister '". Hollande would go on to be elected the Mayor of Tulle in 2001, an office he would hold for the next seven years." Ibid
But chance plays its part and he was on the losing side on an important issue: "Hollande's support for the ill-fated "yes" position in the French referendum on the European Constitution caused friction within the party." ibid
A similar thing happened to Villepin, he was seen as likely 2007 presidential candidate, but he tried to introduce the CPE contract:
"During the protests, Villepin was widely perceived as stubborn and arrogant. As a consequence, his popularity rates went down rapidly and he was no longer regarded as a serious contender for the 2007 presidential election." Wikipedia
But Hollande did win the election at Corrèze, remote, yes, but no less a person than Chirac was in power there:
"Hollande was parachuted into Corrèze shortly after his mentor, François Mitterrand, was elected in 1981. Socialist doyen Jacques Delors, later president of the European commission, had refused the seat and Hollande's chances of beating the incumbent MP, former prime minister Chirac, were very slim.
Chirac, who dismissed the ambitious young man as "less well known than Mitterrand's labrador", however, was wrong to patronise and underestimate him. Hollande took his rival's criticism, turned it into a vote-winning slogan and got himself elected.
It was the start of what was to be a long and loyal relationship between him and the rural department that adopted him. He has served as Tulle's MP and mayor, and in local elections in 2008 succeeded in overthrowing Sarkozy's UMP party's control of the Corrèze department's general council to become its president."
Copé later lied that Hollande was responsible for the growth of spending and the number of civil servants, but fact-checkers showed that this was due to the UMP in previous years and the 2008 budget had been set by them before Hollande took over:
"quand Jean-François Copé parle d'une augmentation de la dette de 110 millions d'euros, il choisit un intervalle qui l'arrange (2007-2011) et mélange les époques : les deux premiers budgets ont été votés sous la précédente majorité UMP. 'Notre responsabilité est de 63 millions sur 363 millions', réplique la majorité actuelle du conseil général, '17% pour nous, 83% pour la droite'."
Back to personality; Hollande's personal style is in marked contrast with Sarkozy's Fouquets style, for which Sarkozy struggled to apologise later:
"Nicolas Sarkozy qui bute sur les mots. La séquence est peu habituelle. Jeudi soir, sur France 2, le président candidat est au bord du bégaiement lorsqu'il évoque l'épisode du Fouquet's. 'Si je.... franchement... Mais bien sûr, si c'était à refaire, je ne repartirais pas, reviendrais pas dans ce restaurant puisque ça a été vraiment le le "feuilleton" ', déclare t-il péniblement au 20h de David Pujadas."
"The bedroom where he (Hollande) sleeps, however, is out of bounds. Rumour that it is as ascetic and simple as Hollande himself - boasting a plain iron bedstead, an ancient television set, a couple of spare suits, shirts and ties, a few books and little else - are true, said Claudine Heiderich, Hollande's assistant.
"He doesn't stay in a hotel, he stays here. It's not at all a luxury room, far from it, that's not his style. It's very simple, true to the sort of man he is," she told the Observer.
Owner Marco Monzauge points out the horseshoe-shaped leather banquette underneath a flat-screen television where Hollande sits on Saturday mornings when he is in his constituency.
"That's his table; he comes in with his croissant and his newspaper for a coffee," Monzauge said. "He is very well liked around here because he's so normal, so approachable.
"We'll be sorry not to see him. It would be nice to think he would still come in for a coffee, but perhaps not as president. I wouldn't want to have to clear the place."
Let's remember also that he won the debate with Sarkozy. I watched it with a Parisian friend who said before it that he was apprehensive because Sarkozy is a smart politician. But Hollande clearly won - and improvised (apparently) an impressive anaphora:
"It is not often that the word anaphora leaps into the news but François Hollande helped make that happen this week.
At the end of his bravura performance against right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential debate on Wednesday, Hollande responded to a question about what kind of president he would be by rhyming off a list of promises.
The Socialist candidate began every goal with the phrase, "Moi, Président de la République" to enumerate how he would be different from Sarkozy, while saying he would respect the French people and remain attentive to their concerns.
In one of the most memorable segments of the two-hour 50-minute debate, he repeated the phrase at least 15 times in a three-minute recitation to pound home his message and draw a contrast with the outgoing president.
opinion polls showed that most French who watched the televised debate (almost 18 million people) felt that Hollande was the most convincing of the two candidates.
Sarkozy earlier boasted that he would "blow apart" his rival, whom he had ridiculed as a "nobody" lacking experience.
But Hollande, once nicknamed "Flanby" for his soft pudding face appearance (before he went on a diet), more than stood his ground.
He aggressively took on Sarkozy, known for his skillful use of demagoguery, at every turn."
We'll now have to see what he and his government can do - they didn't inherit a good situation (like Obama) and have limited options, but it's clear that he and his party are far more likely to do what is good for the majority rather than for the rich, like Arnault, richest man in France, who just happened to be a witness at one of Sarkozy's weddings.
Recently there has been a clamour in the French media that Hollande and his government have done nothing since being in office and Hollande's popularity has plummetted. I think this is ridiculous, it seems as unreasonable as expecting a captain of a cruise liner to turn it in a few metres. As one commentator says:
"Hollande deserves credit for remaining within himself, avoiding blunders, and mostly eschewing cheap effects. To be sure, he has kept campaign promises, some of them costly and of dubious merit, but the bashing would be worse if he hadn't."
"The current François Hollande's strategy should not surprise anybody insofar as the socialist candidate stated during his presidential campaign the first part of his term would be focused on the re-equilibrium of the public accounts, which supposes a policy mainly targeted on the reduction of the deficits, paying attention to some sectors (as education, public services or security) are not affected both. This is a long-term and a needed policy to get some concrete results. Such a policy, constraining and ungrateful, is not impressive and even painful, which probably explains the impatience of some Frenchs the national press is looking for relaying, which explains the "Hollande bashing".
Laurent Joffrin points out that, the Right, having complained that Hollande and co were doing nothing, now complain that they're doing things:
"La Droite ... 'C'est horrible, disait elle, le gouvernement ne fait rien !' Nouvelle chanson depuis deux semaines: 'C'est horrible, le gouvernement fait quelque chose !' "
Le Nouvel Observateur 11.10.2012