His popularity ratings had begun dipping dangerously and the press was at his heels, like a pack of wild dogs on the scent of prey — even usually friendly left-wingers like Le Monde, Le Nouvel Observateur or Liberation.
So France’s President who has barely been in office a 100 days decided to take the bull by the horns and talk directly to the French on Sunday via a televised interview. What he had to offer was essentially blood, sweat and tears: a massive tax raise on better-off households and large companies and a series of government belt-tightening measures that could hit the poorest among the poor. Footballers, artists and movie stars will no longer be given tax breaks but will be included in the 75-per-cent tax slab, which, he said, could be dropped after two years.
Saying he was in a situation of “combat”, the President gave himself two years to pull France up by the bootstraps and balance its huge budget deficit. This will mean raising a colossal €30 billion in the next two years. Unemployment has crossed the 10-per-cent mark with over three million people out of work. Growth prospects are grim — down to 0.8 per cent, and the famous French “malaise” is running at its peak.
“This is a suicidal move. French workers are already the most expensive in Europe. Taxing companies more will result in further morosity and recession. Even if the government says that large companies and not small and medium ones like mine will bear the brunt of the measures, our entire economy will be affected. Companies must be given tax breaks in order to make labour cheaper. That is the only way France can recover its competitive edge,” said Georges Leroux, who owns a small manufacturing business.
For the past several weeks the President has been the object of some sharp attacks from the press, and not just right-wing titles. The left-leaning weekly Le Nouvel Observateur said his government was untrained and inexperienced with Ministers contradicting each other, and that Mr. Hollande himself had proved ineffectual. Le Monde said the President had to “come to grips with the situation and act quickly to restore confidence while the right-leaning Le Figaro has never let up in its criticism since the right lost the elections last May.
Another polemic clouded Mr. Hollande’s attempts to reconquer public opinion. It was revealed that France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault who owns the luxury brand LVMH — Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey — and whose personal fortune is estimated at €41 billion was planning to take Belgian citizenship in order to escape Mr. Hollande’s plans to slap a 75-per-cent tax rate on the super rich (those earning over €1 million per year). Mr. Pinault had moved to the U.S. for three years when Francois Mitterand became the first Socialist to be elected French President in 1981. Asked about Mr. Arnault’s decision to seek Belgian nationality, Mr. Hollande said: “He should have realised what it means to be French. We are a big country, with lots of advantages and history. We are proud to be French. We have to call on patriotism at this time … to ask for an effort in the battle against debt.”
Mr. Arnault quickly retreated. “I am and will remain a tax resident in France and in this regard I will, like all French people, fulfil my fiscal obligations,” said the world’s fourth-richest man. “Our country must count on everyone to do their bit to face a deep economic crisis amid strict budgetary constraints,” he said, adding that the bid for dual nationality was “linked to personal reasons” and began several months ago.
Mr. Arnault’s application for dual Franco-Belgian nationality comes amid a debate on one of the main pledges of Mr. Hollande’s election campaign earlier this year.
“I am what I am,” Mr. Hollande said enigmatically when questioned about his personal governing style. He studiously avoided any discussion of his private life (his current companion Valerie Trierweiller and his former wife Segolene Royal make no secret of their mutual detestation) and steered clear of using the word “normal” to describe his presidency