Embattled Hollande defends his record in primetime interview
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France’s deeply unpopular President François Hollande defended his record Thursday during a town-hall style interview on issues ranging from the economy to his failed attempts to pass controversial anti-terror measures and the Syrian crisis.
Dogged by record low poll ratings, with his “back against the wall” – as the headline in France’s leading daily put it – Hollande tried to convince French voters that his policies were bearing fruit.
“Things are going better: there is more growth, less deficit, more competitiveness, better margins for companies, more purchasing power for workers,” said Hollande.
Haunted by a promise he made to shrink a jobless rate that has remained above 10 percent since he took office in 2012, Hollande said he would continue with his reform proposals.
"My goal was to modernise the country by protecting its social model," he said at the start of the interview.
In a town-hall style TV interview titled “Citizens’ Dialogue” (Dialogue citoyens) broadcast on France 2 TV station, Hollande insisted that the economic situation in France had improved.
"Yes, it’s getting better: there is more growth, less deficit, less taxes, more competitiveness, more margins for businesses, more purchasing power for workers," he said on France 2.
But opinion polls in the lead-up to Thursday’s interview showed that the overwhelming majority of the French people do not believe their economic situation has improved.
When asked on Thursday if he will seek a new mandate in the 2017 presidential race, Hollande said he would decide at the end of the year.
Hollande had previously vowed not to seek reelection unless he could lower unemployment during his first term.
‘Hollande: operation survival’
Hollande has been facing divisions within his own Socialist party as well as opposition from a rising National Front. Over the past few days, polling institutes have published some of the worst-ever ratings of a French president.
A poll conducted by the Odoxa polling agency this week showed 76 percent of voters believed Hollande should stand aside next year for a better Socialist candidate.
More worryingly, the poll, which tallied with one on April 9 by Ifop, showed that this was a view shared by 66 percent of people who customarily voted for left-wingers.
“In this president, the French no longer believe,” said the front page headline of Le Parisien, the newspaper for which the poll was conducted.
"Hollande: operation survival," said conservative newspaper Le Figaro ahead of the TV interview where Hollande faced more than two hours of questions about everything from the country's foreign policy to voter concerns about joblessness and labour law reforms that have triggered street protests.
Another poll published on Thursday showed that a massive 87 percent of respondents were unhappy with his record after four years of a five-year term.
The only solace from the Elabe survey was that 65 percent believed his centre-right predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy would have done no better. Sarkozy is expected to run again in 2017 if he can overcome opposition from within his Les Républicains (formerly the UMP) party.
Sarkozy himself faced a rock-bottom approval rating one year from the end of his term, albeit with a somewhat less grim 70 percent disapproval rating in an April 2011 poll by the LH2 polling group.
Hollande was elected in May 2012 on a left-leaning platform but switched tack as the economy faltered to embrace more pro-business reforms. That has eroded support among his traditional Socialist backers and brought unions and young people onto the streets in protest, even though many of the proposed reforms have been watered down.
Adding to the public's perception of a wavering leader, Hollande was pressured into dropping plans drafted after last year’s Paris attacks to strip French nationality from French-born dual citizens convicted of terrorism.
Recent polls have shown Hollande failing to make it to the second round of a presidential election regardless of who runs against him, with even controversial far-right leader Marine Le Pen making it to the run-off.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)