Hollande – The Underappreciated President

Part 2 reviewing Hollande’s highly unpopular 5 year term as French President. This article attempts to cut through the sea of criticisms in order to appreciate the positive work realised by Hollande and his government.

26th January 2012: a key date in François Hollande’s bid to enter the Elysée in the battle against Nicolas Sarkozy, the day the leader of le Parti Socialiste released his ’60 engagements’ – a list of promises that if elected he would carry out. Through thesepropositions he wished to embody the notion of change; his campaign slogan ‘Le changement, c’est maintenant!’ captures his desire to symbloise a new phase in French history. This change was centered around his vision of a France built on Republican values of equality, social justice, and solidarity, while simultaneously refering to Sarkozy’s 5 years to ‘l’Ancien Régime’, evoking revolutionary notions and portraying Hollande’s plans as honourable. So did Hollande succeed in bringing fairness and justice to 21st century France?

At the heart of his vision, Hollande prioritised the issue of youth unemployment as a barrier that needed to be overcome. Measures proposed to try overcome both the roots of the problem, as well as the crux of this contemporary issue itself (limited employment opportunities) are to be admired here. In an effort to tackle the source of the phenomenon, Hollande suggested a strengthening of the education system with 60,000 more teaching posts. In this respect, it helped to reduce the number of young people left underqualified for the job market. Yet, it must be noted that every year 150,000 young people continue to leave school without any qualifications which suggests that the system remains highly flawed. Hollande’s proposal of a ‘contrat de génération’ provides a CDI for a young person whilst simultaneously keeping on a senior employee to allow for the transfer of knowledge. The ‘emplois d’avenir’, can be viewed as positive with regards to providing employment (and crucially) professional training to young people who have been job seeking for a minimum of 6 of the last 12 months and have very few qualifications (or ‘weak’ qualifications such as CAP or BEP).  Some estimates claim that 300,000 have benefitted from an ‘emploi d’avenir, doubling the original target. Similarly, apprentiships have flourished under Hollande increasing from 187,000 in 2012 to 402,000 in 2015. This so-called ‘formation alternée’ provides a high quality vocational alternative which strengthens a young person’s employability. For instance, after 7 months training, 71% of apprentices secure employment. Previously this sector had struggled due to negative perceptions of apprentiships in comparison with higher education. Yet Hollande successful managed to improve attitudes to these programs and integrated apprentiships into universities. However, as we will observe with many of Hollande’s ideas, it relies on heavy state subsidising which serves to add to France’s colossal public debt of €2137bn. Given the scale of youth unemployment at 26.2% (marginally down from 26.3% in 2012), it may be argued that such ideas are merely superfluous without actually instigating significant economic change. However, personally it appears that such ideas have helped to limit this issue and helped to provide more stable employment. In this way, Hollande’s idea can be perceived as appropriate for the 21st century as it seeks to confront ‘la précarité’ from the outset of a young person’s working life. Moreover, the presence of ‘youth-concerned’ ideas must be recognised as helping to maintain a relationship between the government and this demographic, without which more young people may feel abandoned, potentially leading to complete political mistrust and disengagement.

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As the former leader of le Parti Socialiste, it would be a mistake to not reflect on Hollande’s impact on French society during his quinquennat. He strove to fulfil what he labels in his book ‘Changer de destin’ as ‘la promesse républicaine’ through refreshing social policies that would give France an air of modernity. Prime example, ‘le mariage pour tous’, a bill legalising gay marriage in a major milestone for LGBT+ rights in France – a country that has at times struggled to shrug off its deeply catholic roots. Moreover, the right for foreigners to vote in local elections was another significant social triumph.
Throughout Hollande’s campaign to become President he made the finance sector public enemy number one and denounced it as the cause of much socio-economic suffering in France. This was in particular passionately argued by Hollande in a fervent passage of his Bourget speech, proclaiming , ‘cette adversaire, c’est le monde de la finance’. To evaluate the significance of this personified attack on the injustice of the finance sector, it is important to consider the context of this election. The recession, for which the financial sector was largely responsible, had caused the French economy to stagnate, impacting much of wider society without really having any profound consequences on themselves. Thus, ideas of directly confronting those at fault carries with it a welcome return to prominence to truly French values of justice.

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On an environmental level, Hollande has made significant progess in the global battle against climate change. In the last five years, France has known a rapid development in renewable energy with projects spread across the country providing employment and reducing France’s carbon output. Towards the end of his term, Hollande shifted attention to vehicular pollution, particularly with regard to deteriorating air quality in Paris. Macron has already pledged to continue this work started by Hollande with his #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain project. The new will also strive to reach Hollande’s target to reduce nuclear power to 50% of national supply, which stood 75% in 2012. Undoubtedly, Hollande has placed the environment into the sphere of political debate as a major theme, vital for any meaningful progress.

The revival of French industry was also a priority of Hollande’s as in 2013 it only represented 13% of GDP, down from 24% in 1980, a fall corresponding to the loss of 1.9 million jobs. In response to this crisis, he created a new ministerial post of ‘Ministre du redressement productif’, a role bestowed upon Arnaud Montebourg. Within this post, Montebourg’s responsibilities included improving communication the CNI to identify areas to imrove and propose solutions to achieve this. This collaboration ultimately led to ‘Les 34 plans de reconquête’ which included: €42bn financial support via the newly-established Banque Publique d’Inestissement (BPI), improving education-industry links, innovative projects such as Futur TGV and smart-textiles – helping French products to escape ‘le milieu de gamme’, a market space now occupied by the Asian NICs. More generally, Montebourg encouraged a more protectionist approach having previously describing France as ‘l’idiot du village mondial’ in terms of trade. Second Prime Minister Manuel Valls (prior to stabbing Hollande in the back) also effectively helped to restore French industry through a simplification of administrative procedures saving French companies between €1.5-2bn a year. Hollande has therefore has clearly instigated a revival of French industry with the French balance of trade deficit being lightened from €71.2bn in 2011 to €48.1bn in 2015. Admittedly a long way to go, but nevertheless a promising start…

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On the European stage Hollande promised a renegotiation of EU legislatation. Instead, he rreturned from Brussels with €120bn towards ‘European projects’ such as transport, green energy which were already areas being addressed by the French Goveernment. In this way, Hollande managed to expertly gain huge funding for his ideas in a time when France’s economy was very weak. Hollande also defended the French social model’s ‘exceptionalism’ through staunchly refusing to be rushed to reaching the 3% Maastricht Treaty threshold. Hollande proved himself an adept figure in European politics throughout his quinquennat which in turn benefitted France.

 

There is no doubt that, in essence, Hollande’s ideas are progressive and in keeping with contemporary ideals. Yet, despite these honourable intentions, the economic restrictions of this 21st century society mean that these ideas will have to be toned down with a certain degree of austerity to ensure stable development. So ultimately the man who claim to incarnate change was unable to instigate huge change. It is this contrast (between the passionate declarations of his campaign, with the actual action under restrictive economics conditions), that may lead to an interpretation of these ideas as superficial or blindly optimistic, ultimately undermining his presidential authority, and in general, creating a rather pessimistic France.

 

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