Saturday, 9 February 2013

Hollande's dreadful week proves that 'a week is a long time in politics'

"Trust me Frankie..."  "Ummm, okay Angie, I believe you..:(
It's been a terrible week for François Hollande, although he began it rather well. Monday saw him meeting with American Vice President Joe Biden, who praised him for what he called his "decisive" decision to send troops to Mali. 

Ah, Mali. Those had been indeed halycyon days. Hollande's army had swept with brio through Mali and pushed the rebels back into tiny strongholds in the north of the country, and he received such a hero's welcome during his visit to Mali to meet Malian representatives that he called it "the most important day of my political life." Better still, the whole shebang had been so popular with voters that it almost made France forget its economic woes.

But that was all forgotten the next day. It was Tuesday, and the analysts and some politicians suddenly brought him back down to earth with a bump. 'It's all very well making terrorists run away' they said 'but they are still alive and the hard bit - the asymmetrical warfare bit where they use road bombs and suicide bombers - is not going to be anything like as easy. Ask Bush, whose 'lightning' war to topple Saddam lasted a decade.' Hollande did not respond to the reports, hoping as he surely must have been that the upcoming EU budget summit would restore his aura.

But things got off to an immediate and unauspicious start on Wednesday morning, when Germany rejected Hollande's claim that the euro is overvalued and added that interest rates should not be used to boost competitiveness. Also, rumours began to circulate that David Cameron was going to drive a very hard bargain at the EU summit later in the week and that he was gunning for Hollande. Still, Angela Merkel did come over to Paris to watch the France-Germany football match, so maybe he could woo her over to seeing his point of view? The answer is 'no, he couldn't' because a Merkel spokesperson described their pre-match meeting to discuss the summit as "short and intense." The Elysée was forced to deny any major disagreement between them, and as if that wasn't enough the Germans beat France 1-2. Deary me. But even worse news would come Hollande's way on Thursday morning.

That was when dastastardly David Cameron spoilt his lunch in Brussels as the start of the summit with a violently uncompromising declaration to journalists in which he bluntly warned the EU - and Hollande in particular - that he would not sign the EU budget bill unless it was cut, and not increased as Hollande wanted it to be. "When we were last here in November, the numbers that were put forward were much too high." said Cameron. "They need to come down. And if they don't come down, there won't be a deal." Great Britain had declared budgetary war on France and an angrily defiant Hollande said that he would not give in. Metaphorical cruise missiles were lobbed from one side of Brussels to the other all day long, far into the evening, and onwards into a chilly night in all senses of the word.

As usual, the negotiations were acrimonious and overshadowed by Europe's 'Big Five' - Germany, Italy, Great Britain, France and Spain. And as is often the case they split up into two opposing camps, with France, Spain and Italy fighting for a budget increase and Britain and Germany, with Merkel finally making it clear that she was backing Cameron, opposing them with plans for a decrease.

Things got so bad for Hollande that he crawled sulkily back into his room, from which he didn't move or say a word, even refusing to answer 2am phone calls from EU leaders who wanted him to attend a meeting with Cameron and Merkel. It all reminded me of Hitler's last few desperate days in the bunker.

Finally though, and after a night of the kind of high drama and petulant theatrics which we have resignedly come to expect at EU summit meetings, Europe's leaders managed to thrash out a budget agreement for the rest of the decade. 

It was all over. Cameron had obtained almost all of the cuts he wanted, and Hollande was handed down a crumb or two from the table in order that he may try and save face when he got home. But it was not to be, and by the time he got back to Paris the press, politicians and public alike had already been savagely mauling him for a couple of hours. He was weak, they said, he had caved in, he had let his country down, he was a loser.

'Hollande's Trafalgar?' 'Cameron and Merkel impose austerity on Hollande'. '"Tightfisted Europe" wins out over Hollande'. Those are just three of the top-of-the-homepage headlines which were to be read in the French press yesterday evening. Cruel reading they must have made for Hollande, but crueller still is that they were accurate.

François Hollande must be musing ruefully today about what could arguably be called 'the worst week of his political life'. With his ephemeral success in Mali behind him, and a terrible drubbing in Europe to cap his week off, he knows that he now has no major crusade left to fight in order to keep the public's mind off the awful state of the economy, an economy which he shall now be forced to confront.

"A week is a long time in politics" said British Sixties PM Harold Wilson. Indeed it is, as François Hollande has just found out to his cost.


  1. Hi

    Yes, just what I thought too. I think we have to commend France (and Hollande) for what they've done in Mali so far and I hope it stays that way. Sarkozy's government having to take some of the blame for paying something like 90million in ransom during his time - money which went right into funding terrorists - so Hollande's actions are to be commended. Although, when I heard that they had taken some towns without meeting any resistance, Napolean's entry into Moscow came to mind...

    And yes, it was a bad week as far as the EU budget was concerned but what really shocked me was when he told the european parliament that "The euro should not fluctuate according to the mood of the markets" Is it just me but was that not just amateurish? Lacking the basic knowledge of how things work? I mean, what does he want? What is he suggesting?

    And nobody else wants it. Certainly not the Germans and not even the Spanish and Italians - who might benefit from the cheaper exports - because the stronger euro has brought their borrowing costs down to manageable levels.

    But the really negative aspect for him is that it drives the wedge between him and Merkel deeper. I think that will lead to Merkel chosing Cameron's side more and more often.

    And him not even answering the phone to have a meeting with Cameron, Merkel, Van Rumpoy and Barrosso, just looked like cowardice or huffing.

    Yup, a bad week.

    1. Evenin' Streaky, and you're quite right to say that the war in Mali is justified and that Hollande deserves credit for that. I blogged on this a while back to express my worry that France might end up 'doing a BUsh' and getting bogged down for years, particularly if help from African nations is long in coming, inadequate, or, worse, both. He had the good sense to decide to clean up the mess down there so let's just hope he has the good sense to leave before the recent suicide bombing attempt and attack on Malian army vehicles become regular occurences, that which is quite possible.

      As to Hollande's remarks about the euro, I was just as gobsmacked as you were. It reminded me of his 'I don't like the rich' remark in London. The rich and market fluctuations are here to stay and he'll just have to get used to it. I mean, it's not even as if he's in an election campaign and needs to say dumb stuff like that to garner votes.

      All of which of course is why Merkel dropped him and backed Cameron's more realistic stance, whatever may be thought of Cameron in general.

      If you ain't got the Germans on your side, you're on the losing side in the EU, that's just the way it is.

    2. Rats, I forgot to thank you for suggesting that I write on the topic of Hollande's bad week. It was a lot of fun to write but I also think that although Hollande loused up somewhat you have to feel for him in a way.

  2. Maybe Hollande will resign! Let's see : we had "Bling-Bling, then Flamby" who is it going to be next?

  3. I am reading some of your older posts. When did you start writing your blog? It might take me a while to read the whole thing. Reading my first blog ever, was in 2006; "La France profonde". It took me a while to read each posts but I did it. Then because of commenters, I checked out their blog... I have so many favorites now, it is fun, but time consuming.

    1. Hi Nadege! Hollande resigning? Let's just imagine he does. And that Sarkozy doesn't re-enter politics (which isn't a sure bet by any means.) We'd have Fillon for the UMP, and he is not only a well respected politician, even by the opposition, he is also a canny, intelligent and elegant man. Which means he'd be very hard to beat for anyone.

      Who could beat him? That's more difficult as I don't see anyone up to outwitting Fillon. Except hey! What about Taubira? After all, she's just proved with the gay debate that she too, like Fillon, doesn't need to shout to make herself heard and she is a highly competent politician, like Fillon.

      Yeah, Fillon vs Taubira. Now THERE'S a scrap for you!

      I started this blog just over a year ago, although I have had other blogs in the past. In fact I've been blogging now for something like 8 years in all. My job helps of course because I do most of it on the computer so I can write blogs during a break of an hour, sometimes two or three. I'm very fortunate in that respect.

      Ah, blogging. it's relaxing, it's good to see what other people like to blog about, and, as you say, you 'meet' some very kind people, some of whom I've had the pleasure of meeting in real life.

    2. Hey, and talking of writing on suggested topics, I've just found exactly the a story I needed (in a British paper as it happens) to illustrate your subject - happiness, or the lack of it. It's the perfect article as it illustrates the topic very well, which can then be gone into in more detail. I'm looking forward to this...

  4. Mornin'.

    Exactly sir. He's not in an election. He was actually giving a keynote speech to the European Parliament. So the only reason for saying dumb stuff like that is that he's, well, dumb.

    In fact, I'm quite surprised by how he's turning out. I was never a fan of Sarko and I thought the Segolene was a complete dunderheed but I always liked Hollande. Peolple called him boring and Flamby but I always thought that his speeches were pretty good; funny and even rousing at times. And there is certainly merit to the idea that there is too much austerity. A great deal of merit.

    But, hélas, he doesn't seem to be fighting his corner very well. In fact, he's alienting himself. And now that he's on the international stage, he seems a bit lightweight.

    Anyway, me Findus lasagne is nearly cooked so I'll bid you all a fine Sunday.

    1. Ah Findus! 'It's all Romania and the Mafia's fault' say the French, but I'm not convinced. This is going to be a long-running story and scandal in my 'umble view because I don't believe we know the half of it...

  5. Reading past posts will help me with what is going on in France. I have heard of Fillon but never of
    Taubira. I am really out of touch but maybe it is better as it would make me very upset otherwise.
    Thank you so much for taking the time researching different subjects so deeply. You are a breath of fresh air!

    If you are ever bored, watch this 88 mn "You tube" of Dr Neil De Grasse Tyson, about cosmic quandaries.
    Brilliant and very entertaining!

  6. Sorry, I forgot the link! (duh!)