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France was 'on verge of bankruptcy', Hollande says

Screen shot from BFM TV
4 min

Marking the two-year anniversary on Tuesday since being elected and facing the lowest opinion polls in modern French history, President François Hollande urged his countrymen to reserve judgement until the end of his mandate in 2017.


The 59-year-old French leader said he would feel “impatient, but not disappointed” if he had been one of the people who had voted for him.

“I prefer making my decisions, assuming my responsibilities and then being judged on my results… The results will come,” he said during an interview with media group RMC and BFM TV. “I’ve asked to be judged at the end of my mandate.”

“My objective, my fight, was to put France back on track, because it wasn’t,” he said, suggesting there would be more progress by the time his term comes to an end.

Least popular modern president

Questioned about his dwindling popularity -- having registered the worst popularity polls of any sitting French president of the Fifth Republic -- the leader urged voters to have more patience.

He also partly blamed his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, for France’s current financial woes, saying the country “was on the verge of bankruptcy” when he took over the reins at the Elysée Palace.

“My winning in 2012 was undoubtedly because my predecessor had failed,” he said. “What I have done, I have done for France.”

Government reshuffle

Asked about his decision to replace his former prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, with the more popular interior minister Manuel Valls in a cabinet reshuffle following the Socialist Party's losses in March local elections, Hollande said,“I took action since the French say they want to see faster (change).”

The newly promoted Valls, with his “close-knit team”, should be able to “provide the necessary impetus”, Hollande said.

He also welcomed the popularity of his new prime minister. “All the better," he said. "I wasn’t going to select someone who was perceived as unpopular or incompetent.”

Financial headache

Despite his failure to deliver on a vow to reverse the country’s rising unemployment levels by the end of last year, Hollande insisted he had at least stabilised France's jobless rate.

But the president admitted to not having “sufficiently pointed out” exactly how serious the country’s financial situation was when he entered office -- in particular, the deterioration of competitiveness of French industry. He said he was then faced “with the worst crisis in the eurozone”.


He reiterated his intention of not intending to run as a candidate in the 2017 presidential elections unless he succeeds in turning unemployment around and puts France’s economic growth back on track.

Pushing through reform

"We need to move even quicker because the French find (the waiting) unbearable, they want results,” Hollande said.

“We’re going to move faster on territorial reforms, we’re going to move faster on simplying [the bureaucracy for entrepreneurs], we’re going to move faster on cutting labour costs -- we’re even going to move faster on decreasing taxes.”

The bidding war for Alstom

Hollande said he didn’t consider American giant General Electric’s offer for French engineering group Alstom’s energy business “sufficient at present”.

“The role of the state is to get answers to all questions and to ensure that the national interest is preserved,” he said.

France has “sufficient means to implement pressure” to produce a better offer, he said, adding that he hopes that GE’s final offer, which will be competing against an offer from Germany’s Siemens, will directly translate into jobs in France.

A very public private life

When asked about his private life, which came under close scrutiny this winter when the magazine Closer revealed Hollande’s secret relationship with actress Julie Gayet, the president was quick to point out his right to privacy.

“Private is private”, he said, noting that he wants the French “to judge me on what I do, that they see me for who I am. I am not here to confuse private life with public life.”

French action abroad

Often accused by his opponents of being an “amateur”, Hollande responded by recounting the numerous international actions France has undertaken during his mandate.

“[Was it] 'amateurish' to exit the eurozone crisis? Amateurish to intervene in Mali, when no one else did and terrorism was gaining ground? Amateurish to go to the Central African Republic in order to prevent genocide? Amateurish to be the only Western head of state to say on the Syrian crisis that: ‘Careful! We’re about to let a massacre happen’? I prefer to assume my responsibilities and be judged on the results.”

Ukraine crisis and pressuring Putin

Hollande said the main thing at stake in Ukraine right now is to ensure that the presidential elections scheduled for May 25 go ahead as planned, underscoring the importance of applying pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure a fair and democratic poll.

The main objective is to ensure that the person who claims victory “is legitimate in everyone’s eyes”, Hollande said, adding that Putin “must be put under pressure… pressure exercised by all of Europe”.



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