As French President François Hollande commences his second year in office, one of his main concerns now will be the latest opinion poll results indicating that 76% of the French public have a negative assessment of his capabilities.
A governmental meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s residence in Matignon yesterday to mark the occasion but there was no birthday cake amidst a background of record numbers of unemployed (at approximately 3.2 million, a rise of 10% on the figure one year ago) and a sluggish economy (0% GDP growth).
The assembled group of PM (and former ground-breaking Mayor of Nantes) Jean-Marc Ayrault and his 37 ministers also had the results of Monday’s TNS-Soffres poll to digest: It showed that 76% of respondents were “dissatisfied” with their government’s performance over the last year – a depressing result considering that 56% of those polled had voted for Hollande in both rounds of last year’s presidential election.
Not to be outdone by talk of doom and gloom, Ayrault was upbeat about yesterday’s meeting, speaking of it being a welcome one of “stock-taking and perspectives”.
“We must keep on accelerating, accentuating and reacting to an even greater extent,” said Jean-Marc Ayrault on television over the weekend. In the same interview on TF1, he admitted to certain “false notes” sounded during the year, most notably in the Ministry of Finance, but he was steadfast in defence of the government strategy: “The government is on course, even if there might be some re-jigging to be done.” On the question of possible cabinet re-shuffles, the Prime Minister remained vague: “Everything in its own time,” he replied rather opaquely.The austerity measures continue to be implemented by the French government in the face of strong opposition from unions and members of the public alike and despite the government’s socialist nature. Moreover, Jean-Marc Ayrault spoke of jettisoning some of the government’s stake in certain state assets to help balance the books: “We envisage that in a certain number of state enterprises where the rate of state ownership is high, we can offload a part of the public stake in order to finance public investment elsewhere, but not to shore up the holes in the budget.”
In attempting to take full advantage of the government’s weakened position, meanwhile, leader of the FG (not Fine Gael but the more radical left-wing grouping Front de Gauche) communist Jean-Luc Mélenchon organised a huge rally on Sunday. The march and gathering at the site of the Bastille is estimated to have drawn a crowd of over 200,000 and was organised, according to Mélenchon “against austerity, against the Department of Finance and for a Sixth Republic”. Happy Birthday, Mr President!