Hollande flounders, as Valls emerges as likely successor

François Hollande is looking more and more isolated in the wake of low public opinion and inner-party turmoil. [European Council]

It seems increasingly unlikely that François Hollande will have another shot at the French presidency; faced with dissent in his own ranks over proposed employment reforms and struggling in the polls, the incumbent has few options open. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told broadcasters on Sunday (28 February) that the refugee crisis is “the biggest challenge” she has faced during her time in office, but while Merkel can prioritise the crisis, Hollande is in the midst of a presidential candidacy race, with his chances of running again for office dwindling. France’s president is struggling under more and more pressure as the left faction of his socialist party turns its back on him and his popularity plummets.

The Socialists’ recent internal dispute has stemmed from a proposal to change the 35-hour cap on the working week. Limiting the working week to 35-hours dates back to the late 1990s, when it was introduced by former Minister for Labour Martine Aubry, daughter of former Commission President Jacques Delors. However, Hollande’s government has drafted a new employment law that would amend the cap on hours and workers’ rights. The 35-hour week would effectively remain in place, but employers would no longer have to get the go-ahead from unions to increase it. In protest against the changes, Aubry withdrew from the leadership race at the weekend.

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Aubry is considered to be the voice of the party’s left and carries a lot of influence. The former leader of the party clarified at the weekend that she had no intention of throwing her hat into the presidential candidacy mix. Nevertheless, her withdrawal will likely have an impact on the ruling party’s future course. The fact that the party’s left finds itself in conflict with Hollande’s policies was evident back in January, when Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned due to disagreements over new reforms planned in the wake of the November Paris attacks.

The open insubordination of his party colleagues is likely to be a thorn in Hollande’s side. If the incumbent president maintains any hope of keeping his job, then he will have to present himself as a figurehead of a united left. This appears to have been the rationale behind a recent cabinet reshuffle, with the appointment of Jean-Marc Ayrault as Minister of Foreign Affairs seen as a concession to this effect.

However, the dispute over hours and workers’ rights has reopened old wounds and trade unions have already announced massive protests against the proposed reforms.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls explained on Monday (29 February) that the proposed reform would be presented two weeks later than previously announced, in order to remove any “misunderstandings” from the current text. Initially, a 9 March date was earmarked for introducing the draft law to the Council of Ministers.

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Hollande’s problems extend much further than just employment disputes though. A recent poll showed that the president’s popularity had dwindled to such an extent that Hollande would lose in the first round to both Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé, both candidates for the same Republican nomination. As the situation becomes increasingly hopeless for Hollande, more and more observers believe that the party will throw its weight behind Valls instead.

The president also had to endure a miserable time at the annual Paris farming fair on Saturday (27 February), as farmers booed and insulted him, venting their frustrations at low prices. It continues a tradition of presidents being given short shrift at the fair; Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy insulted a man who refused to shake his hand, telling him to “get lost, you poor jerk!”

Commission 'very concerned' after refugees tear-gassed at border

The European Commission today (1 March) confirmed it would push to use overseas aid in the EU to deal with the refugee crisis and said it was “very concerned” that refugees had been tear-gassed on the Macedonian border with Greece.

Angela Merkel will have to bear this in mind at the upcoming EU summit on refugees, if she turns to Hollande for support. It is expected that the summit will clarify how far the EU as a whole is prepared to go to help Turkey manage the refugee crisis and protect the bloc’s external borders.

Hollande shares the chancellor’s view that the number of refugees has to be limited externally, but here is where Berlin and Paris’ common ground appears to end though, as France pursues a harder line in managing the crisis. On Monday (29 February), French authorities bulldozed a large part of the so-called “Migrant jungle’ in Calais, under the watchful eyes of the French police.

This article was also published by EURACTIV Germany.


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