|"Trust me Frankie..." "Ummm, okay Angie, I believe you..:(|
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.