Hollande dodges questions on alleged affair


French President François Hollande brushed aside questions about his private life at a much-anticipated press conference on Tuesday – his first public appearance since reports surfaced of his alleged affair with an actress.


"Everyone in their personal lives can go through tough times. That is the case (for me). These are painful moments," said Hollande. "But I have one principle: these private affairs are dealt with in private. This is neither the time nor the place to do it. So, I will not be responding to any questions about my private life."

Tuesday’s press conference came just days after a French tabloid magazine broke a story alleging that the president was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

The seven-page colour spread in Closer magazine included a photograph of a man the magazine said was Hollande, being taken on a scooter to an apartment near the Elysée presidential palace to meet Gayet.

The scandal, coming at a time when the president’s popularity rating has been stuck at a record post-war low, has put Hollande in a delicate position ahead of local elections set for later this year.

In the lead-up to the press conference, an annual set-piece at the Elysée presidential palace ballroom marking the start of the year, speculation about Hollande’s likely reactions to the scandal dominated the airwaves across France.

The media frenzy reached a pitch over the weekend after Hollande’s partner, Valérie Trierweiler, was admitted to a Paris hospital on Friday for “rest and a few tests”.

But in the end, the French president succeeded in dismissing questions about his private life as the wide-ranging press conference – which lasted more than two hours – focused on economic issues.

Who is France’s First Lady?

Hollande started the press briefing in the sumptuous presidential ballroom packed with more than 500 journalists with a 20-minute speech detailing his plans to revitalise the sluggish French economy.

But during the question round, the very first query was on whether Trierweiler was still France’s first lady.

France does not officially have a first lady and Hollande has never been married. But Trierweiler does have an office at the Elysée palace and a small personal staff. She also accompanies the French president on overseas visits.

Setting the tone for his discourse on the issue, Hollande responded that he was incensed by the invasion of his privacy and maintained that “private affairs must be handled privately”.

When questioned further, he did however promise that the issue of whether Trierweiler was the first lady would be resolved before his planned trip to the US in February.

The French are traditionally indulgent of their leaders' sexual indiscretions, a view that became apparent as successive French journalists failed to address the issue – to the consternation of the international press.

When eventually pressed about his threat to take legal action against Closer, Hollande replied that he had decided not to sue the magazine for invading his privacy because as head of state he was immune from being sued himself and did not want to create a double standard. He never, however, denied the reported affair.

Responding to a question about the state of Trierweiler’s health, Hollande responded with a terse, “She is resting. No further comment”.

A ‘responsibility pact’ to help revive the economy

Hollande did however provide details of his plan to revive the French economy by announcing reforms to ease the tax burden on business, as well as reducing labour costs and slashing public spending.

Announcing a proposed "responsibility pact" on Tuesday, Hollande promised to reduce the tax and regulatory burden on businesses in return for commitments to create jobs and boost training. As part of that drive, employers will no longer fund family allowances via payroll taxes from 2017.

Hollande also promised a further 50 billion euros in spending cuts in 2015-17 on top of a planned 14 billion this year, saying they could be achieved by making national and local government more efficient.

The wide-ranging press conference also included a call by Hollande for France and Germany to harmonise corporate taxation and create a joint venture to help manage the transition to renewable energy.

International press react to the 'Gayet Affair'

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