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Beleaguered Hollande faces fire at Paris press conference

AFP

President François Hollande is holding his biannual press conference in Paris on Thursday following turbulent weeks that included a shock cabinet reshuffle and fiery allegations published in a tell-all memoir by former partner Valérie Trierweiler.

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Hollande has seen his approval ratings sink to new lows since his government returned to work in September, with only 13 percent of voters maintaining a favourable opinion of the French president at the halfway mark of his five-year mandate, according to a recent poll.

Besieged by troubles on the domestic and international front, Hollande will fend off questions at the Elysée Palace about his breakup with France’s former first lady, dissident members of his Socialist Party, the West’s response to a jihadist surge in Syria and France’s stagnant economy.

According to Jérôme Sainte-Marie, president of the French polling firm Pollingvox, despite the publication of Trierweiler’s kiss-and-tell memoir this month, the most embarrassing questions for Hollande will address France’s record-high unemployment figures.

France's labour ministry said in August that there were 3.4 million people out of work in what constituted the ninth consecutive rise in monthly unemployment figures.

“It’s a dramatic situation,” Sainte-Marie told FRANCE 24. “[Hollande] promises over and over again that unemployment would be curbed. Today, people want to know how he could have made such unfounded promises.”

Succeeding France’s flashy former head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2012, Hollande also promised to be a “normal president” who would keep his private life out of politics and out of the press.

That vow was broken in a major way when a French tabloid lifted the lid on his love affair with French actress Julie Gayet in January, which precipitated his break-up with Trierweiler; and again last week when Trierweiler recounted in lurid detail her failed romance with the president.

Trierweiler’s book, in which she also claimed Hollande mocked poor people by calling them the “toothless", has become a bestseller in France.

Remaining loyal to the left

Hollande used his previous press conference in January to unveil the outlines of a pro-business shift in policy, or his so-called Responsibility Pact, meant to motor France’s sluggish economy.

Observers said similar disclosures from the president were unlikely on Thursday. Instead, Hollande was expected to deliver a battery of explanations for his administration’s shortcomings and to defend his left-wing credentials.

“Hollande wants to convince those who voted for him that he remains loyal to them,” said Sainte-Marie.

The president has faced an avalanche of criticism for offering tax breaks to businesses and implementing German-endorsed austerity measures, and for silencing those in his entourage opposed to such moves.

Two weeks ago, anti-austerity economy minister Arnaud Montebourg was forced to resign, to be promptly replaced with Emmanuel Macron, a former Rothschild banker.

“A big reason for Hollande’s lack of popularity is that many think that he has turned his back on the left. It’s very important for the president to reestablish that relationship,” Sainte-Marie said.

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