France’s beleaguered president

French President Francois Hollande

From Economist:  The French are not known for their optimism, but recently their morosité has been plumbing new depths. The popularity rating of the Socialist president, François Hollande, has tumbled faster and further than that of any other president since the Fifth Republic began in 1958. . . .

It is in both France’s and Europe’s interest that Mr Hollande recovers some of his political flair. France’s economy is teetering on the brink of yet another recession. The budget deficit for this year will be far above the previously agreed euro-zone target of 3% of GDP. Unemployment is nearing 11%. France’s problems are becoming Europe’s too. The sharp rise in French joblessness is one of the main reasons why euro-zone unemployment has hit its highest level since the single currency was introduced in 1999. The fiscal failings and lack of growth of the euro zone’s second-biggest economy are helping to drag down an entire continent.

The European project has always been led jointly by France and Germany. For all his faults, Mr Sarkozy was careful to work closely with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, throughout the euro crisis. Now the partnership has crumbled. Mrs Merkel regards Mr Hollande’s reforms as pitifully inadequate, while he has been making common cause with southern Mediterranean countries against her excessive austerity. His growing weakness reduces his usefulness still further. With a diminished France and a reluctant Germany struggling to steer Europe on its own, the euro zone seems to be drifting apart. Even a banking union, which is essential for the euro’s survival, looks increasingly doubtful (see Charlemagne). . . .

If Mr Hollande is to use this time to strengthen his position, he urgently needs to persuade his party and the voters of the case for change. His attempts to make France more competitive by reforming the labour market and cutting red tape are welcome, but he needs to do more. He has begun to reverse his foolish campaign message stressing a reduction in the retirement age, but has yet to sell the idea that the French need to work longer and harder to pay for their benefits and their old age. France’s state eats up 57% of GDP, the highest in the euro zone; but although Mr Hollande has admitted that public spending must be cut, he has yet to spell out how and where.  (photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP)

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