Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande is has been rocked by a weak economy, spiralling unemployment and a personal scandal over his alleged affair with an actress Reuters

Reuters reported that the approval rating of France's president, François Hollande, had bombed to a new all-time low, whilst his newly appointed finance minister Manuel Valls, has achieved much more favourable results by attaining the biggest gap ever recorded between the two government positions just days after taking up his new appointment.

In a separate poll reported in the French media, there was strong approval for the former Interior Minister's planned new tax and spending cuts. M. Valls announced in a budget statement last week, his aim to reduce the country's Budget Deficit by making €50 billion of public spending "savings". No mention of the word "cuts" or how these savings are to be achieved, whilst at the same time stating that he would do this avoiding "outright austerity" - brave words which will doubtless be viewed with considerable interest on this side of the Channel by all concerned and possibly across the Atlantic as well.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention those ratings. The polls were taken between 04 and 12 April and showed M. Valls with a 58 per cent level of approval. President Hollande on the other hand, might wish to stay in Mexico where he is proving highly popular and has signed 42 agreements with his counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, as his ratings have slumped to just 18 per cent.

The French President's had stood at an already miserable 23 per cent this time last month and these poor showings are put down to the failure of M. Hollande to turn round the French economy and bring down the country's high unemployment rate (both promises in his 2012 Election campaign).

Figures show that the French economy stagnated in 2012 and 2013 and although inflation fell from an estimated 2.2 per cent to 1.1 per cent in this period, unemployment rose slightly from 9.8 per cent to 10.5 per cent. Youth unemployment (15 – 24 year-olds) did fall from 25.4 per cent in 4<sup>th Quarter 2012 to 22.8 per cent in 4<sup>th Quarter 2013 but this is still depressingly high when one considers that too many of this group are well educated and the economy just does not have the jobs to employ them.

President Hollande is learning the hard way that it is less governments which create jobs – he famously promised to employ 60,000 new teachers on coming to office – and more businesses. M. Valls, on the right wing of the Socialist Party, realises this fact much more clearly and is concentrating his tax cuts on those that are paid by companies. Pay roll taxes are to be reduced by €10 billion and he aims to reduce corporation tax to 28 per cent - eventually.

Currently the standard company tax rate is 33.33 per cent but there is presently an effective surtax applied, which brings the total to 35 per cent for most companies. The surtax will be removed by 2016, M. Valls stated and the reduction to 28 per cent is targeted for 2020. (Ireland need not panic yet with it trading income tax rate of 12.5 per cent and even a special economic zone level of 10 per cent).

M. Valls of course, always knew the economic score and is most unpopular within the governing Socialist Party, particularly with its left wing which sees him as another Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French President defeated in 2012.

As of last weekend there were, apparently, no less than three "Nicolas Sarkozy's" in France. The real one is politically quiet meantime but back in January, former first lady Bernadette Chirac let slip that M. Sarkozy intends to challenge M. Hollande in 2017. Then there is the Socialist Party's M. Valls.

Finally, on 12 April several thousand left-wing protesters took to the streets of Paris proclaiming that President Hollande was just another Sarkozy by now following his policies. The Government, they claim, was no longer of the left but followed policies which were increasing social inequality.

There was no blame or rancour against the husband of Carla Bruni – they knew perfectly well where and for what he stood and that he had promised no less during his election campaign in 2012 and failed in his attempt to retain the Presidency. Their anger was all directed at President Hollande who had betrayed them.

Is all this simply midterm disgruntlement at a government which promised far more than it could possibly deliver or prioritized policies such as gay marriage, before tackling issues like unemployment that affect the whole nation? Certainly the local election results on 30 March, brought home to the President just how deep the dissatisfaction in the country is with him and his Government to date.

Might there be another factor which led to such reversals at the ballot box? Maybe the conduct of the President himself?

There's something very human about wanting revenge, especially when the victim finds out through a tabloid magazine that she has played the patsy for several months past and the story of her public humiliation proved so popular that five days after initial publication, the magazine reprinted 150,000 more copies of the edition.

This is what befell Valérie Trierweiler who was President François Hollande's partner of eight years until 10 January 2014 when the magazine Closer broke the story - or that might be the 25<sup>th when the unmarried President declared their relationship was over.

Mme Trierweiler was France's de facto First Lady/ "Première Dame", a former political journalist who worked for the President with her own office in the Élysée Palace and was supplanted, at least in the role of maîtresse-en-titre, by the actress Julie Gayet.

Ms Gayet took Closer to court seeking €50,000 damages plus €4,000 legal costs and on 27 March was awarded €15,000 so little sympathy and more than one guilty party it would appear.

Closer's story entailed photographs of the President riding pillion on a motorbike driven by a secret service guard to rendezvous with the actress and being returned early the following morning to the Élysée.

Mme Trierweiler took the goings-on rather badly. Quite understandable and on 10 April she tweeted a public message concerning a legal case involving a French woman and her ex-husband, a former governor of Mexico, which has severely strained relations between the two countries in the recent past.

There would be more sympathy for Mme Trierweiler but for the small detail that she supplanted President Hollande's former sweetheart and mother of his four children, the politician Ségolène Royale, in a scenario not too different from the one that she has suffered.

The President has reappointed Mme Royale to the Government – perfectly within his rights – but the whole scenario does little to raise the President to the status that the constitution of the Fifth Republic designed his role to be. France has a semi-presidential system of government when formerly, before October 1958, the system had been a weak parliamentary one.

The French are very aware of that and they expect their Head of State to act accordingly. The present incumbent is well off the mark!